TORONTO — Stop us if you’re heard this one before. Jose Bautista has a ball thrown behind his back, near his head, or directly into his midsection. He shoots a long, icy stare out to the pitcher on the mound. And somehow, in some way, he exacts his revenge later on with his bat.
He did it against the New York Yankees’ Ivan Nova in 2010, Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar in 2011, Baltimore’s Jason Garcia in 2015, and multiple times against long-time nemesis and Orioles reliever Darren O’Day. Sunday, Bautista added Chris Archer to the list.
It all started in the first inning, when Archer’s first pitch to Bautista sailed behind the Blue Jays outfielder’s back at 96 m.p.h. Bautista stood still in the batter’s box and took a long, intense stare out at Archer, who walked off the mound towards Bautista, returning the glare.
Home plate umpire Jim Wolf came out from behind the plate to warn Archer, along with both dugouts. Neither Archer nor his manager, Kevin Cash, argued with Wolf about the warnings.
When Bautista flew out two pitches later, he took a route back to the dugout that passed directly beside Archer, and he appeared to offer some commentary to the Rays starter.
Bautista had his revenge later in the game, lining an Archer fastball into left field for a one-out single in the sixth and crushing an Alex Colome cutter to the wall in left-centre field in the eighth to plate a game-tying run. Bautista then scored the winning run three batters later on a Russell Martin single to right field.
"He’s got the flair for the dramatic. He’s had so many big hits around here. And I’ve also seen him have balls thrown at him, hit him, and thrown behind him. And he answers back with the big home run. We’ve seen that a couple times," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "There’s certain players in this game who rise to the occasion when things get tough and he’s always been one of those. And that’s not easy to do.
"But, you know, around the league he’s kind of viewed as a villain. There’s no doubt. But I think that’s partly because he’s such a good player, he’s burned so many teams, he’s got that edge about him."
After the game, Bautista said he didn’t know if Archer was throwing at him on purpose, and said his words for Archer were rather banal.
"I just asked him if he was okay. He said he was good," Bautista recalled. "That’s it."
For his part, Archer told reporters after the game that the ball merely slipped out of his hand.
"I was just trying to go inside," he said. "The ball got away from me a little bit."
Of course, Archer has excellent command, and look at his pitch chart from Sunday’s outing shows a pitcher who was around the zone all afternoon, save for one ball that ended up behind the right-handed batter’s box.
Bautista was in no mood to discuss the incident after Sunday’s game, or even the MLB’s policing of rules both written and unwritten in general, offering terse, one-word responses to inquiring reporters in the Blue Jays clubhouse.
But Gibbons was willing to go further, suggesting Archer should be suspended like Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes was after throwing behind Orioles star Manny Machado last week. Barnes received a four-game ban and was fined an undisclosed amount after a pitch sailed past Machado’s head, apparently in retaliation for a Machado slide at second base that injured Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia.
"I would expect there’s got to be some kind of suspension, the way they’re handling things now," Gibbons said. "I saw the Machado thing the other day. The ball was thrown behind him. Now, if the umpire had not issued a warning, okay, maybe he didn’t think something was wrong. But since he issued a warning, maybe he was thinking, maybe something’s not right here. So, if the umpire thinks there was a reason, maybe he thought there was some intent.
"That’s why I would imagine the league would step up like they do most of the time. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t. You’ve got to maintain that continuity. That standard."
Archer and Bautista do not have any apparent history with one another, although the pitch could have been a retaliatory effort after Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was hit on the hand by an errant Joe Biagini fastball in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. Souza left the game but X-rays returned negative. He missed Sunday’s series finale with what the team was calling a bruise.
The Blue Jays do have a history with Souza over recent months. Last September, after Souza flew out to end a Blue Jays win, some miscommunication between Martin and Souza led to the benches clearing and plenty of heated discussion.
Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was right in the middle of it, barking aggressively with Souza. But after the game, both sides admitted it was all a misunderstanding and that Souza had misheard Martin after he flew out.
During a game earlier this month, Tulowitzki again took issue with Souza, this time over a late slide into second base as the Rays outfielder attempted to break up a double play. Both dugouts cleared, but cooler heads prevailed and Souza went on to hit a three-run homer later in the game.
"I don’t know if that had anything to do with Souza," Gibbons said of Bautista being hit. "With Souza, we had that little dust up down in Florida. There was nothing there. He’s had plenty of at-bats since then. He hit the big home run. If we were going to do something—I don’t even know why we would."