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Chase Utley’s Illegal Slide Changed Everything For The Dodgers

UPDATE (Oct. 13, 10:45 a.m.): With their 13-7 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday night, the Mets now have a 75 percent probability of winning the series despite the effect of Utley’s slide. Utley’s appeal probably won’t be heard Tuesday, so he will probably be eligible for Tuesday’s Game 4, though he did not play Monday night.

Thanks to this play Saturday night, the matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets in the National League Division Series made the leap from an ordinary series to a blood feud:

Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley was suspended for two games for the hard slide that broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. But he appealed the decision, and players are eligible to play until their appeals are heard. ESPN reported that Utley’s appeal probably won’t be heard Monday, so Utley will be eligible to play in the series’ crucial third game — an appearance that will draw the fury of New York fans on Monday evening and is sure to keep the dispute over the slide boiling. The series is tied 1-1.

They may boo, but Mets fans should probably hope Utley gets as much playing time as possible. Although he was once an under-the-radar great, Utley’s best days are probably behind him; he produced exactly zero wins above replacement (WAR) in more than 100 games this season, and he is projected to do little more than that going forward. On a per-plate-appearance basis, he’s one of the least effective position players on the Dodgers’ roster.

But even if Utley doesn’t register another hit in the series, he’ll have already made an indelible mark on both teams’ playoff fortunes. His seventh-inning single off Noah Syndergaard increased L.A.’s win probability by 11 percentage points — and by subsequently breaking up a potential Mets double play with his aggressive take-out of Tejada, he lifted the Dodgers’ chances of winning by 40 percentage points. No position player in the playoffs has added more than 28 percentage points to his team’s tally in a single game, so Utley had an enormous individual effect on the outcome of Game 2. And considering that the Dodgers’ odds of winning the series (according to our Elo ratings) rose from 35 percent to 52 percent with the victory, the slide will probably go down as one of the most pivotal plays of the entire postseason.

Tejada’s injury — and Utley’s slide, later described by Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, as an illegal “rolling block” — has sparked plenty of calls for new rules protecting fielders around second base. But the disparity between Utley’s ability to affect the game legally (as measured by WAR) and the opportunity he had to do so by stretching the rules of baserunning to their breaking point created a major incentive to push the boundaries of safety.

For the Dodgers, the impact of losing Utley to suspension would have been minimal, at least according to WAR. But the reward for his questionable play might be a trip to the National League Championship Series.

Read more: Playoff Umps Are Screwing Up A Tenth Of Balls And Strikes

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.