So what’s the deal between Jose Bautista and Darren O’Day?
Well, it started June 21, 2013, during the seventh inning of what finished as a 7-6 Toronto Blue Jays victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Munenori Kawasaki had just tied the game with a two-run homer, Melky Cabrera singled, and with Bautista at the plate and O’Day on the mound, pinch-runner Rajai Davis stole second.
O’Day ruled the day, getting Bautista swinging to end the inning, and appeared to say something as he walked off the mound. Bautista took exception, stared him down, and a seed was planted. The Blue Jays won the game in the ninth on a Davis RBI single.
The next day, with the game tied 2-2 in the eighth inning, the two met again with one aboard and two out, but this time Bautista launched a game-winning two-run homer on a 3-2 pitch, and as he rounded third base, he barked at O’Day and made a gesture with his hands.
This was his explanation: "I told him just to keep talking like he was yesterday because he kind of ran his mouth a little bit after he struck me out. 'I don't know where that came from but I didn't appreciate it. I let him know that yesterday and that's a little reminder today."
O’Day declined to talk about it.
Fast forward to Sept. 16 of last year, the night when the Orioles clinched the AL East with an 8-2 win over the Blue Jays. It was a testy series that included an errant pitch by Marcus Stroman that sailed by the head of catcher Caleb Joseph, who had gotten tangled up with Jose Reyes earlier, and Aaron Loup had hit Nick Markakis in the shoulder in the seventh inning.
O’Day took over in the eighth and drilled Bautista with his second pitch, prompting home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild to warn both teams. Bautista stood at the plate after getting hit, calmly took off his protective equipment and took first base without looking at O’Day.
"I suspected that something might have been coming," Bautista said afterwards. "I don’t mind it at all. I know how the game is played and it’s part of it. I just thought it was a little weird that they threw a first pitch breaking ball for a strike and then hit me instead of just hitting me right away. I guess they wanted to have a little leeway to use it as an excuse to say that they weren’t trying to. Everyone knows they were trying to. They should have just manned up and hit me with the first pitch."
Then came the eighth inning on Sunday, when O’Day made Bautista duck with an 87 mph fastball that was thrown behind him. Bautista gave him a brief stare, settled back in, and rocked a 3-2 slider over the wall in left for a two-run shot that put the Blue Jays up 10-7.
After connecting, Bautista gave O’Day a quick stare once the ball cleared the wall, turned away and didn’t look at him again, although his emotions were clear as he went through a high-five rampage in the Blue Jays dugout.
"Emotion, the moment, there’s history there," Bautista said afterwards. "He’s hit me a few times, he’s thrown behind me a few times, and I’ve gotten him a few times. It was emotion in the moment, he threw one behind me, it’s a one-run game, it’s late, it gave my team a three-run lead instead of a one-run lead going into the eighth and ninth. It’s an exciting part of the game."
Said O’Day: "I didn’t hear him. I was just focusing on myself. I threw a terrible pitch. If you make mistakes like that, a guy like that is going to hit them. It was a terrible pitch, so, no, I didn't notice what he was doing."
Bautista is now 5-for-15 with four homers, eight RBIs, three walks, five strikeouts and two hit by pitches in his career versus O’Day.
"I can’t say that I see him particularly well, I just have had the success, I can’t really point to why," he said. "I guess I bear down in some of those at-bats and I’ve been able to connect. I’m happy to be able to do that."
Does getting thrown at make him bear down more?
"It’s different for everybody that’s on the mound and different for every pitcher," said Bautista. "At least with him, I know he’s not going to blow 87 miles an hour by me. I figured he was probably going to try to throw me more off-speed pitches after moving my feet a little bit with that fastball, I basically said to myself I’m looking for off-speed. If he throws me a fastball I’m going to go back to the dugout if it’s a strike. I sat on slider, he threw it, luckily for me he threw it right down the middle."