The next time Sean Rodriguez and Mike Napoli run into each other, it might be over a meal and the former Angels teammates may joke about what happened.
Nothing funny about their body-jarring crash this week. But these are the playoffs, and home-plate smashups are part of the game.
“There have been collisions in this postseason, they’ve been ringing a few bells,” Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said.
Two, in particular.
On Sunday night, Jon Jay of the St. Louis Cardinals plowed his forearm into the mask of Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz, sending a shudder through Citizens Bank Park. Bowled over, Ruiz held on for the out.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez barreled over Napoli, knocked the ball loose and was safe at home for Tampa Bay. Texas went on to win, taking the first-round series.
Shades of the famous Pete Rose-Ray Fosse play that ended the 1970 All-Star game. No ill will, Napoli said.
“I’m going to go in hard, too, if I have a chance and the game is on line like this one,” the sturdy catcher said. “That’s the right way to play the game. There are things you need to do in this game. I don’t have any problems with what he did.”
Said Rodriguez: “We’ll probably laugh about it the next time we see each other.”
“It’s the same as if he came into second and he took me out. I’m not going to be upset at him,” Rodriguez said. “I know he’s going to try to block the plate, which he’s supposed to do to try to prevent guys from scoring.”
That’s certainly a lot more cordial than the harsh feelings that ensued after San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was injured in a play at the plate on May 25.
Florida’s Scott Cousins launched himself into Posey in a violent hit that broke Posey’s left leg and tore ligaments in his ankle, ending the season for the NL Rookie of the Year.
In the aftermath, some wondered whether MLB should change its rules, perhaps adding protection for catchers, the way the NFL treats defenseless receivers. Others suggested MLB should take the same approach as colleges — or park softball, for that matter — and force runners to give themselves up at the plate with easy slides.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean called Cousins’ play malicious, saying the Marlins rookie had room to go around Posey. Cousins apologized several times, and the Giants said Sabean had spoken out of frustration.
Torre, a former All-Star catcher and now MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, spoke to Sabean and Giants manager Bruce Bochy after the play and said he didn’t see any rules changing.
Torre remembered what it was like to be a player, on both sides of bruising hits.
“When I’m rounding third, and I’m not trying to be funny, but I very rarely got to a catcher because I didn’t run very fast. But if I see him waiting for a ball, I know I’ve got to knock him on his rear end,” he said Tuesday in Arizona.
“And I know that the perception is that he gave you this,” Torre said, gesturing to indicate an open path to the plate, “to slide to, but once he gets the ball, that’s gone, so you have to knock him over.”
In 2008, though, the New York Yankees were incensed after Elliot Johnson crashed into Francisco Cervelli during an exhibition game, breaking the catcher’s wrist. The next time the teams met in spring training, they tangled.
Torre, like many others, winced when Napoli got crushed.
“You’ve got concussion issues. That was a bang-bang, pretty good,” he said. “But if you’re sitting in that dugout or you’re sitting in the stands eating popcorn and wanting your team to win, and you see some guy coming around third and politely slide into the guy with the ball, that’s tough for you to go home with.”
Napoli was checked by Texas manager Ron Washington and a trainer, and was OK. He had all his teeth — something was missing, though.
“He turned around and walked back to the plate,” Washington said. “The next thing he said, ‘Geez, I had a wad of chew, where is it?”’
“He swallowed it,” the manager said.
Ruiz gave Jay a serious stare after getting his mask knocking off, but the Phillies’ rugged catcher didn’t say anything.
“It’s just baseball out there, it’s the playoffs,” Jay said. “Trying to get a run, just playing the game hard.”