The Seventh In The 6ix
The seventh inning of the fifth and deciding game of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers started out as innocently and unassuming as the previous six. It had been a tight and relatively uneventful game to that point. Edwin Encarnacion had just walked the parrot around the bases after a monster homerun tied things up at 2, and the ball had been turned over to the Jays set up man, Aaron Sanchez. Rougned Odor lead things off for the Rangers with a base hit the other way to left. He was promptly moved over on a sacrifice bunt from Chris Gimenez, and then ended up on third after Delino DeShields grounded out on a fine defensive play by Josh Donaldson. Classic small ball.
With two outs, Shin-Soo Choo stepped up to the plate, having already homered earlier in the contest. The Rogers Centre crowd had just been woken up by Encarnacion’s game tying home and were as loud as they had been all game long. Still, tensions were running high as the Jays had been on the brink of elimination since game 2 and this contest was becoming a nail biter. In all of my years playing competitive baseball and watching professional baseball on TV and in person, what happened next was a first for me and most everyone else who was watching. I have witnessed a catcher hit a right handed batter trying to make a throw over him to third base, I have even seen a catcher hit a batter who was in his way trying to make the throw to second. I have never seen a casual throw back to the pitcher that unintentionally ricochets off of a batter, no less allowing the go ahead run in the late innings of a must win, elimination playoff game; that sort of fluke just doesn’t happen. It did happen, however, and that is part of what makes baseball the beautiful game it is, with its subtlety, nuances and downright unpredictability.
I was as stunned by the incident as everyone at the Rogers Centre and by those watching at home. A flurry of text messages was exchanged between my friend Alex and myself, trying to make sense of what had just happened. All of my social media feeds became flooded with posts about the rules of baseball, and the confusion only seemed to grow as the minutes ticked by while plate umpire and crew chief Dale Scott and his team attempted to understand what had happened and restore order to the game. As I saw it, it was a clear error by Martin and the run should count. In my head there was not much debate. It was frustrating since the Jays had just pulled even the previous inning, and now on a harmless play, with 2 outs, had gifted a run right back to the Rangers. John Gibbons was right to protest the game in my opinion, if only because it showed his team that he was not going to sit by and let a potential blown call determine the outcome of the League Division Series. Upon re watching the incident, you can see Scott waving his arms before Odor crosses the plate, waving the play dead, again, it was not the right call, but it explains why Gibbons and the Jays may have had an argument.
While all of this is going on, one can imagine what is going through Russell Martin’s head. An elite catcher, one of the best in the game, did something he had never done before in his life. You could see the expression of helplessness and disbelief as the ball bounced towards third base. Several minutes later, without a clear decision in sight, he was still in the middle of the discussions between Gibbons and the umpires, trying to get a grasp on what was happening when suddenly a Jays player was thrown out of the game. The problem was, the umpire didn’t know who he was tossing. He heard words from the bench and reacted. No one was sure who the ejection was directed towards, but Mark Buehrle too the fall, as any veteran who was not on the official roster would take one for their team. Once play finally resumed, it took two more pitches to strike out Choo. Of course, this would only be the start one of the most bizarre and exciting innings in baseball history.
Bottom of the seventh, up comes none other than Russell Martin, who desperately needed to pick himself and his team up. A routine groundball hit up the middle turned into an error by the usually sure handed shortstop Elvis Andrus. What is going on in this game I remember saying out loud. Then right after that Pillar grounds to first baseman Mitch Moreland. At first I was thinking they couldn’t turn a double play because the throw to second was delayed and the next thing I knew it was in the dirt and runners on first and second no out. Are you kidding me? Okay, calm down, you’ve just been given two gifts by the Rangers, the game is not over yet, Goins will surely bunt to move them over for the top of the order. Oh darn, the bunt went right to Beltre, he’s a Gold Glove third baseman, he played it perfectly to get the lead runner, its not that bad, top of the order is coming up…holy shit! Andrus dropped the throw? Everyone is safe! WHAT IS GOING ON?
Now you can’t keep giving the most potent offense in the league chances and expect to get out of trouble unharmed. You have to feel for Cole Hamels who was pitching a great game, and had just served up three easy outs for his team and they completely left him out to dry. Hamels then goes back to the mound, and induces another ground ball, this one actually resulting in a force out at home. He gets lifted for former Blue Jays prospect, Sam Dyson who comes in to one of the most pressure packed situations he will ever be in, and the first batter he faces is potential AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Donaldson gets jammed but manages to muscle the ball just over the second baseman. All I was thinking as the ball was sailing over his head was, please do not call an infield fly, that is just the last thing this inning needs. You’ve also got to feel for Elvis Andrus, who is now probably almost as hated in Texas as Jose Bautista. Even the usually polite Dave Hodge of TSN took a shot at him later in the game.
Okay, so the game is tied now, and Jose Bautista is up to bat in the most important at bat of his career to this point. He had been really just missing the ball, popping out often in this series, he seemed to be squeezing the bat just a little too tight, maybe trying to do too much. With all of the big trades that the Jays made to bolster their lineup, the key to their success relies on Bautista being the most dangerous hitter in that lineup. The country was on the edge of their seats for the entire inning, the collective frustration of 22 years between playoff appearances boiling over, and then on a 1–1 pitch from Dyson, Bautista destroys the baseball sending the Rogers Centre crowd and fans watching across the country into a delirious euphoria. Is this real life? You could not have scripted more plot twists into one inning if you tried.
Of course there is the bat flip, that was perhaps more majestic than the homerun itself. Ryan Goins was on third base and had almost crossed the plate before Bautista had left the box. The emotional build up to that point was unprecedented. Years of futility in the AL East, finally making the playoffs only to go down two games to none, clawing your way back into the series, tying the game, giving the lead right back on a bizarre play, and now three errors, a tied game again, a raucous crowd at Rogers Centre, you’ve got the game in your hands, and you deliver. It’s the type of scenario that kids dream about in their back yards, minus the wild and inconceivable back story. Yoenis Cespedes had delivered a memorable bat flip only two days prior in the NLDS against the Dodgers. It was immediately seen as the best and most memorable of the season by many, however, not to be outdone, the emphatic toss of the bat by Bautista, fuelled by passion and emotion, in my opinion overshadows the one by the Mets outfielder. Was it disrespectful to the game, no, it shows that the game is evolving, that the players are invested in what they are doing on the field. Of course a bat flip during a day game in April between the Brewers and Cubs isn’t the place for it, but as the potential defining moment of your career, yes, you flip that bat, you show the world how you feel, Jose.
It seems as though those 53 minutes in the seventh inning gave the Jays their swagger back, and heading into the ALCS against a Royals team that they have already clashed with this season, expect more of the unexpected from this 2015 Postseason.