Blue Jays’ Bautista needs to let his bat do the talking

Superior bullpen management after Trevor Bauer was forced to leave in the first inning gave the Cleveland Indians a stranglehold on the series as they won 4-2 in Game 3 and secured a 3-0 series lead over the struggling Toronto Blue Jays.

TORONTO – Through words and deed, Jose Bautista has been at the centre of the Toronto Blue Jays universe since 2010. Primarily through deed. When you hit 249 home runs in seven years – the most in MLB over that stretch – you’re going to get noticed.

But when you go 4-for-24 in the playoffs? You get noticed for that too.

Bautista has never gone so far as Reggie Jackson, the self-aggrandizing former New York Yankees star who famously referred to himself as the straw that stirs the drink, but he’s put himself out there far enough, often enough.

Not after Game 3 against Cleveland, though. The Blue Jays clubhouse is a large cavernous place with lots of places to make yourself scarce. But Russell Martin (2-for-27) was at his stall, ready to explain the Blue Jays struggles and give reason for optimism. Kevin Pillar (3-for-26) was, too. Marcus Stroman, frustrated after being pulled trailing 3-2 after five innings, explained himself and veteran Jason Grilli sat at his locker so long you wondered if he was planning to stay over in a brooding kind of sleepover. He spoke too, even though the frustration was just below the surface. “I don’t really know what to say,” he said.

Not around was Bautista. He was getting treatment well past midnight. Which is fine. He’ll have Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon to do his talking and it better start with his bat if the Blue Jays are going to see a Game 5.

The day before he’d lit a fire under the American League Championship Series by not-at-all subtly pointing the fingers at the umpires and the overly generous strike zone afforded Cleveland’s pitchers as the reason for his struggles.

It would have been interesting to hear if the pattern in Game 3 continued or if he’d made adjustments. He ended up with one strikeout, a single and a fly-out in his first three plate appearances, all of which came with no one on base. When he came up in the bottom of the seventh and the Blue Jays trailing 4-2 he walked with Kevin Pillar on second base.

And that was it. Three times he batted with no one on and the fourth time he took an empty base. It’s baseball, even the greatest hitters can’t make things happen at will. But Bautista would have a hard time complaining about calls on Monday night. On his first inning strikeout he was caught looking, but only after he was forgiven a checked-swing strike. On his walk at least three of the balls were borderline strikes according to online pitch trackers, but plate umpire Brian Gorman saw them in the Bautista’s favour.

If the Blue Jays lose in Game 4 or fail to make it to the World Series after falling behind 3-0 Bautista’s career in Toronto will be over. He turns 36 Wednesday and there is no chance the club is going to sign him to the lucrative long-term deal he craves.

After so many high volume moments, it will end quietly.

His peak production will be missed, but so will his willingness to speak out.

When the Blue Jays failed to pull the trigger at the trade deadline in 2014 it was Bautista who scolded management for standing pat. He’s been front and centre in beefs with the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. He put Blue Jays ownership and management on blast in spring training when he made an argument for a contract extension so public it might as well have been a Power Point presentation. When he starts chewing on the GuardLab mouth guard he wears across his lower teeth, the temperature starts to rise.

But right now only Bautista’s frustration is burning hot.

A year ago Bautista ushered in the adjective “bat flip” into Blue Jays lore. It was a special time.

This time around the Blue Jays slugger introduced the catch-all term “circumstances” into the lexicon. It will not be remembered as warmly.

After going hitless in eight plate appearances and striking out five times in two games in Cleveland he decided it was time for a fireside chat where he not-so-vaguely blamed the umpires for his hitting woes and the Blue Jays widespread power outage.

“They’ve been able to do that because of the circumstances, that I’m not trying to talk about, because I can’t,” he said.

It made him the centre of attention heading into Game 3 and target for ire both locally and – of course – in Cleveland where their radio voice, Tom Hamilton, tweaked Bautista about the former MLB home run leader now leading baseball in whining.

Before he even took the plate Bautista was in the eye of the storm as he tracked back on a hard hit, two-out liner off the bat of Cleveland’s Mike Napoli. He had it in his big blue glove only to have it bounce out after he tried to slow himself up at the right-field wall. As Carlos Santana came around to score, Bautista slammed his glove to the turf and sat on his knees at the base of the wall in disgust for a moment.

Cleveland’s Twitter account had a field day.

When Napoli doubled home Santana it was – “Given the circumstances, good start for the good guys.”

When Bautista struck out looking it was: “LOL.”

When Andrew Miller, Cleveland’s untouchable reliever checked in, it was simply “The Circumstance.”

Or how about Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, who had to leave the game in the first inning after his mangled pinky wouldn’t stop bleeding, requiring a parade of Cleveland bullpen arms to pick up the slack.

“Sometimes the circumstances aren’t in your favour,” said Bauer. “Good teams overcome them and find a way to win.”

As long as Cleveland’s winning and Bautista is struggling, he will never hear the end of it. He put himself out there and now he has to take the heat.

“You know what, Jose is a journalist’s dream or media person’s dream, because he tells you what is on his mind,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “He has always has been. But he’s also a guy that steps up. He’s had some controversy before. Some guys shy away from that, it’s never been him. A lot of times that kind of motivates him, to be honest with you.

“I’ve heard it before,” Gibbons said about his slugger’s penchant for pot stirring. “Jose, if you ask him a question, he’s going to answer it.”

There wasn’t the chance to ask him anything after Game 3, but Game 4 is coming fast and by then the story on the Blue Jays season and Bautista’s Toronto career could very well be written.

These are circumstances seemingly beyond his control, but apparently very much in Cleveland’s.

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