There has been speculation since the early days of spring training about the impact of the new slide rule that has been adopted by Major League Baseball to better protect middle infielders.
Well, we're finding out. The Toronto Blue Jays lost a game to the Tampa Bay Rays when slugger Jose Bautista and teammate Edwin Encarnacion were both called out after video replay officials in New York ruled that Bautista illegally contacted infielder Logan Forsythe in the ninth inning of Tuesday's game at Tropicana Field.
The decision negated an errant throw by Forsythe that allowed two runs to score and temporarily gave the Jays the lead. Instead, the game ended on the play with the Rays holding onto their 3-2 lead, sending Jays manager John Gibbons into a rage.
"It turned the game into a joke," Gibbons said. "That's flat-out embarrassing. That cost us a chance to win a major league game."
That was the second time the rule was used to create an interference double play during the first week of the regular season. Former Oriole Nick Markakis was called out on Monday, along with Braves teammate Hector Olivera, for intentionally sliding into Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy.
The so-called "Chase Utley Rule," which was instituted after Utley broke the leg of New York Mets infielder Ruben Tejada during last year's National League playoffs, clearly is in full effect.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed concern early on about the possible ramifications of the rule change, which requires base runners to slide into the base and prohibits them from changing direction to target the pivot man in an attempt to break up a double play. But he said before Wednesday's game that the call on Bautista was "pretty cut and dry."
"They told us exactly what they're going to do and so far they're doing it,'' Showalter said. "It's not really open to interpretation."
So, Showalter said he has instructed his minor league managers and instructors to make sure that every player in the organization knows how to slide within the new rule. He and the major league staff already have been putting extra emphasis on adapting to the change.
"There's not replay down there obviously, but we're sending them some tape that we've been showing our guys since really the first days of spring training,'' Showalter said. "We've showed them, attacked it three or four times. We're going to meet about it today after batting practice and show them a couple things that have happened the first couple games that have impacted games so they can continue to be aware."
Veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy said on Wednesday that the Orioles already are well-versed on what they can and cannot do on the bases.
"We've talked about it," Hardy said. "We know what the rule is and it's going to be different for guys like Jonesy who go in hard and get to the guy pretty much every time there's a double play opportunity, he's definitely going to have to change the way he slides. It's just you can't reach for him, you've got to slide toward the bag and try to stay on the bag."
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop said that he does not believe that the new rules will affect the way he turns the double play.
"I'm going to turn them the same way because I'm going to use the bag for protection,'' he said. "For me it's easier because they can't get you all the way in the front and can't get you all the way in the back. They've got to stay somewhere where they can still touch the bag. I'll still stay there and let the bag protect me."