Collision with Pena clean, Martin says
Play shows cries for rule changes to protect catchers unnecessary
CHICAGO -- Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena nearly knocked Yankees catcher Russell Martin into the Wrigley Field box seats on a potential sacrifice fly to end the sixth inning on Saturday. Martin blocked the plate as he absorbed the shoulder-to-shoulder hit, held on to the ball and showed it to Pena: Double play.Martin was no worse for the wear, and after the 4-3 Yankees victory over the Cubs, there weren't any recriminations. Martin and Yanks manager Joe Girardi -- a catcher by trade -- said that it was a clean play and part of the game. They added that the rules don't need to be changed, agreeing with Joe Torre, also a former catcher and now a Major League Baseball executive. "I don't think there have to be [any changes]," Girardi said. "I think you have to be sensible when you block the plate. You don't get run over unnecessarily. But there are times when you have to protect it. It's part of the game. I was taught that you protect that plate for your club and your pitcher and that's what you do. When you put that gear on, that's what you sign up for." The incident stood in stark contrast to the controversial play at the plate on May 25, when Giants catcher Buster Posey was knocked out for the season. Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy were outraged about the 12th-inning play in which Posey was bowled over by Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins, who tagged up to score the winning run. Posey broke his left leg and suffered torn ankle ligaments that required surgery.
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Sabean and Bochy cried foul and spoke to Torre, the former Yankees manager and now MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, about adopting some rule changes to protect the catcher. Torre said earlier this month that he wasn't inclined to make any changes, but would certainly listen to reason.Torre just thought it was an unfortunate set of circumstances. Posey couldn't short hop the throw from right fielder Nate Schierholtz. And as he lunged to grab the ball, Posey put his leg in a vulnerable position as Cousins came barreling down the line. "I'm trying to envision myself rounding third and heading to home," Torre said. "As you see the catcher waiting for the throw from the outfield, your thought process is to score and you may have to upend him. Do I think Cousins' design was to try to hurt him? I don't think so. I think his design was to make sure Posey didn't catch the ball and score the run. The fact that Buster didn't field the ball came too late for Cousins to change what he started to do." In Saturday's case, left fielder Brett Gardner made the catch and a nice strong throw as Pena tagged up from third. Martin fielded the ball on a long hop and had enough time to rotate toward Pena in the split-second before impact. Martin was standing right in the baseline and was ready and waiting. "I had plenty of time to get in position and take the hit," Martin said. "It was clean. If there's a textbook way to come in, he did it shoulder to shoulder. As a catcher, you kind of have to go with it and know that you're going to get the wind knocked out of you." Martin was sent sprawling on his back, his helmet flying. He quickly jumped up and looked at Pena, jabbing the ball at him just to make the point that as hard as Martin was hit, he didn't drop it. "That's passion. That's emotion," Girardi said. "When someone's trying to run you over you don't necessarily bend over to help him up. That's the one thing sometimes people forget about: the emotion we play the game with. We're going do some things people don't necessarily like, but a lot of times that's just emotion." "I love it, especially when I have time," Martin said about the collision play. The ball? "I was showing it to Pena, no doubt." Talk about textbook, Martin executed a perfect play, said Bobby Valentine, a former manager and ESPN analyst: Catch the ball with the bare hand covering it in the glove and then turn toward the runner. "That's the way I taught it," Valentine said. Martin said he certainly watched the replays of the Posey incident. "I did, I did," he said. "He left himself in a bad position. That was a clean hit, too. It wasn't anything dirty. The catcher has to know when to put his body in position and when not to. It's up to the catcher to leave himself vulnerable or not. When you bobble the ball, that's when you're going to get crushed." It's only a dirty play when the catcher is standing in front of the plate and the runner goes out of his way to hit him, Martin added. "If I get hit like that," he said, "there are going to be sparks flying, my friend." Martin blocked the plate. So did Posey. The results were there for all to analyze. The verdict: It's part of the game and no need for a rule change, as Torre, Girardi and Martin indicated.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.