You knew it was coming. The bench clearing brawl between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers on Sunday was just the aftermath. The aftermath of what, you may ask?
The aftermath of that.
The bat flip by Jose Bautista back in the seventh inning of the deciding game of the 2015 ALDS series. It was arguably the most iconic non-World Series moment in Blue Jays history, but it didn’t come without criticism.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 10, 2016
From beanballs and late slides to flying fists and cleared benches, there’s a lot to break down from Sunday’s bench-clearing brawl.
Anyone who follows baseball knows about its ‘unwritten code.’ In other words, rules that aren’t set in the official rule book but are still generally followed by the players. One of the rules of the code is to not admire a home run, which Jose Bautista broke in that ALDS Game 5.
But when you hit the biggest home run of your life to put your team ahead in the deciding game, when that team hadn’t seen postseason action since 1993, it’s understandable to show some excitement.
Maybe Bautista broke baseball’s code with the bat flip, but I don’t blame him in this instance. Regardless, you knew it was something the Rangers weren’t going to soon forget.
Beanballs are a popular way to enforce baseball’s code. That’s what was chosen by Rangers pitcher Matt Bush on Sunday.
On the first pitch of the eighth inning, Bush drilled Bautista with a fastball to the shoulder. The pitch immediately prompted the home plate umpire to warn both sides, as he feared the game could get out of hand. As we know now, he feared correctly.
Don’t believe Rangers manager Jeff Banister saying the pitch on Bautista wasn’t intentional. Bush is new in the Rangers clubhouse, and has been extremely accurate in hitting the strike zone this season. Banister expects us to believe Bush happened to lose control on the very first pitch of the inning, and it just happened to come on a fastball to Bautista? Fat chance.
The late slide
At this point, justice had been served. Bautista got the laugh last season with his bat flip and the Blue Jays advancing to the ALCS, and the Rangers got their revenge by hitting him with a pitch. Score settled.
What happened next was something that didn’t need to happen. Credit it to a poor decision by Bautista and an overreaction by Rougned Odor.
The cause and effect of a hard slide. https://t.co/D8GHyLBkOL
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) May 15, 2016
Bautista pulls a late slide into second base while Odor is attempting to turn the double play. Odor immediately turns to Bautista, pushes him back, and then lands a right hook to the chin of Bautista.
Cue the mayhem.
There’s blame on both Bautista and Odor on this one, but let’s look at them individually.
Bautista’s slide into second was late, and although it isn’t as bad as some claim it to be, it’s still dangerous. That type of slide was legal last year, and it was very common for players to slide late to attempt to break up the double play. But this season the MLB made rule changes to eliminate these plays (aka the Chase Utley rule). Bautista and the Blue Jays are surely aware of this, as they lost a game in the first week of the season on a similar play.
Bautista may have been in the wrong with his slide, but that doesn’t excuse Odor for his punch. Bat flips, beanballs, and late slides are, whether sportsmanlike or not, an element of baseball. Punches are not an element of baseball. That is where Odor crossed the line in all this, and that’s why immediately following the punch, you see players from both benches charge the field to defend their teammates.
Of course, if it’s any other Blue Jay making that late slide, Odor likely doesn’t punch him in the face.
This is still about the bat flip.
The other element of this whole thing is timing. And that’s the issue Bautista had with this whole thing.
Bautista – "cowardly of them to wait to my last at bat of the whole series…" – Honestly, yeah, that's totally true.
— Dan Robson (@RobsonDan) May 15, 2016
He has a point.
Typically in baseball, if you have a score to settle, you do it the next game. You don’t wait until your last meeting of the season to settle the score from last year’s playoffs. The Rangers had four games in Toronto last week and did nothing. They had two games prior to Sunday in Texas, and did nothing. They didn’t do anything until Bautista’s very last at-bat.
Why? Probably because they didn’t want to piss off Bautista and then give him a chance to hit another home run. Yeah, ‘cowardly’ is a good way to put it, Jose.
The Blue Jays weren’t going to play the same waiting game the Rangers did, and they got some payback for the Bautista beanball later in the game.
If Bautista is hit by a pitch in the very first meeting of the season, instead of the very last, he probably never pulls that slide at second base. No late slide means no punch, no brawl, and no huge baseball story. It’s crazy how much of a difference timing can make.
Instead, the Rangers waited until the final meeting of the season, and a brawl ensued. Now we’ll have to wait until next season (or potentially this year’s playoffs), to see how the score will be settled next time.