New takeout slide rule benefits Nats in opening day win

ATLANTA - To anyone who has watched baseball for the last, oh, century or so, it looked like just about every double play that has been attempted.

In the bottom of the seventh inning Monday afternoon at Turner Field, Hector Olivera grounded to third. Anthony Rendon threw to second baseman Daniel Murphy to force out Nick Markakis, who slid into and then through the bag. Murphy's turn and throw to first was way too late to get Olivera.

So just a typical 5-4 fielder's choice, right? Not exactly.

Daniel-Murphy-fielding-spring-sidebar.jpgMurphy immediately pointed at Markakis and looked at second base umpire Paul Nauert.

"As soon as (Markakis) came through, I looked and saw he was past the bag," Murphy said. "I said something to Paul: 'He's out!' "

Nauert concurred. He called Markakis for interference, which meant Olivera was called out as well, giving the Nationals a double play they probably had no shot of turning in the first place.

Say hello to Rule 6.01(j), which is going to become a major source of discussion this season as perhaps the most significant of several changes Major League Baseball made to its rule book.

Reacting to a couple of high-profile takeout slides at second base late season - most notably Chase Utley's high and hard barrel roll into Ruben Tejada during the National League Championship Series that broke the former Mets shortstop's leg - MLB decided to change the way ballplayers have slid for decades.

Here's the official wording of the new rule:

"If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A 'bona fide slide' for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:

"(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
"(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
"(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
"(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."

In this particular case, Markakis' slide was deemed not to be bona fide because he didn't meet criteria No. 3 above. He slid all the way through the base and couldn't reach back to touch it once he came to a stop.

Now, nobody who has watched baseball their entire lives would have deemed Markakis' slide dirty or egregious. But that doesn't matter anymore. The new rule applies, no matter what anyone thinks Markakis' intent might have been.

"We'll just see how this goes," said Max Scherzer, who was on the mound at the time. "You can't make an opinion off one call, but I'm sure we're going to see more and more calls that are going to get overturned like this. It's one of those things where we'll see if the rule needs to be tweaked or not, but it's hard. I'm sure the Braves are upset today. But we've got to see how this continues to play out, if replay's available for it."

Players have been careful to say the right things this spring, recognizing the change was made to help protect infielders from getting seriously hurt as Tejada and the Pirates' Jung Ho Kang did last year. But many insisted they had no problem sticking with the same playing style that had been in place forever.

"As long as there's not extreme slides, I thought we were alright where we were at," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "It's kind of fun to have that pressure while you're turning a double play. I enjoy it."

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