And here came a fastball from Texas reliever Sam Dyson. It was the kind of pitch Bautista dines upon. He was hungry.
“When Bautista took that swing, there was no doubt about it,” Toronto catcher Russell Martin said. “He knew it. We knew it. The whole stadium knew it. The place went nuts. Magical moment. Unbelievable, man.”
How, exactly, the fifth game of the American League Division Series between the Rangers and the Blue Jays will be remembered can’t be quantified at the moment. Too much. Just too much.
But we know this: When human history is recounted, there will be the bat flip Bautista delivered Wednesday, and there will be all other bat flips, bowing in its presence. Filled with rage. Dashed with showmanship. Dripping with significance. The ball went out to left, a three-run shot that turned a tie game into what became a 6-3 Toronto victory that decided the series. Bautista’s bat remained in his left hand until he tossed it high. Rogers Centre about lost its roof.
“I didn’t plan anything that I did,” Bautista said. “And so I still don’t even know how I did it.”
Baseball in October is about this kind of emotion, about spontaneity. Players spend six months being we’ll-get-’em-tomorrow robots. Given everything that had transpired at Rogers Centre — a litany of never-seen-this-before moments — Bautista should have every right to celebrate the signature blast of his career with an entire country.
“I don’t mean any disrespect, whatever I do, anything like that, and I certainly didn’t plan it,” Bautista told Fox Sports during his on-field interview. “It was just the moment.”
By that point, the Rangers had shown the moment was too big for them. So Dyson, after Bautista rounded the bags, spoke to the on-deck hitter, Edwin Encarnacion.
“I told him Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more,” Dyson said. “He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done.”
What shouldn’t be done: Dropping three balls in a single inning of a game that will determine your season, then following it up with a belt-high pitch to one of the game’s best power hitters.
But we digress. The point of it all: Here are the Blue Jays, winning three straight elimination games against the Rangers, kicking open the saloon door to the American League Championship Series, in which they will face Kansas City. It’s good they have the off day before that starts. That’s the only way we’ll be able to sort this all out.
Start with the beers. How, in the most significant baseball game this genteel country has hosted in 22 years, could cups and cans be hurled from the upper deck?
“I know crazy things happen in this game,” Toronto Manager John Gibbons said. “Especially this time of year.”
The specifics of the incident that got us to that point have to be unprecedented in a game of this magnitude. With two outs in the seventh inning and the game tied at 2, Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor led off third. Texas right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, a left-handed hitter, faced Toronto reliever Aaron Sanchez. Choo took a 1-2 fastball for a ball and, as baseball’s new speed-up-the-game rules mandate, stayed in the batter’s box. Harmless stuff.
Choo did, however, tilt his bat and his hands back over the plate just as Martin lobbed the ball back to Sanchez. Martin’s toss hit Choo’s bat. It squirted toward third base.
“It’s never happened,” Martin said. “I just did it in one of the biggest games of my life.”
Odor, alert to the moment, scampered home with the go-ahead run — even as home plate umpire Dale Scott raised his hands to rule the play dead.
Texas Manager Jeff Banister came out to argue, but the umpiring crew sent Odor back to third. Yet Banister was convincing. He got the crew to discuss the play. And when they emerged from their huddle, Scott signaled: Odor could score.
That determination falls under Official Baseball Rule 6.03(a)(3): “[I]f the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher . . . and, in the umpire’s judgment, there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, the ball is alive and in play.”
Rogers Centre came unhinged, with bottles and debris scattered across the outfield. The Rangers led. With baseball season about to die for an entire country, this seemed a problem for the Blue Jays. Somehow, it turned into a problem for Texas. The Rangers, on the verge of playing for a pennant, suddenly forgot how to play the game.
It started with Martin’s bouncer to Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, whom Choo called “the best defensive player in the big leagues.” Not Wednesday, he wasn’t.
“He just misplayed it, and we took advantage of it, put pressure on them,” Martin said. “Next play, another error. And then the next play, another error. You got to take advantage of that. And then the next play, another miscue. You have to win the game at that point.”
Those plays, in order: a poor throw to second by first baseman Mitch Moreland; a drop of a throw at third by Andrus to load the bases; and after one out, Odor’s poor read on a soft liner from Josh Donaldson that allowed the tying run to score, which brought Bautista up.
“Believe me, this is the toughest time in my career right now,” Andrus said. “Both plays, if I can make both plays 100 times, I know I can make them 100 times for sure. It’s a lot of pain right now. I feel like I let down my team, my city. It hurts.”
Bautista took that wound and poured iodine on it. “The most emotionally charged game I’ve ever played,” he said, and that became more the case when Dyson approached Encarnacion to discuss decorum — and the benches and bullpens cleared. They cleared again at the close of the seventh, when Dyson tapped Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki on the behind — Dyson said in a conciliatory manner — and the two exchanged words.
But all that ended up being inconsequential. What mattered was that simple, beautiful swing from Bautista, the ball it propelled into the stratosphere, the game it won — and the emphatic and epic celebration it touched off not only in Toronto but across this country.
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