TORONTO – Whether or not Mike Wright intended to hit Jose Bautista doesn’t really matter. Given all the accumulated animosity between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles, especially as it pertains to the all-star slugger, any pitch too close for comfort was bound to be seen through that prism.
The two teams may not have seen each other in more than a month, when they last played a tame three-game set at Camden Yards, but they’re still sitting on a powder keg, something that sent CB Bucknor, who was working the plate, into ump-show mode.
All that came together in a riveting 5-4 Blue Jays win Friday night, as good a regular season game as you’ll see that featured Bautista getting hit yet again by an Orioles pitcher; several angry exchanges; three ejections, two triggered by a logically unintentional pegging of Adam Jones by Roberto Osuna during a tense eighth inning; an unlikely no-hit bid by Marco Estrada, who was at 71 pitches through three innings before locking in; and a near rally in a nail-biting ninth.
This is a rivalry that just keeps getting better, even if both teams seemed intent on taking the temperature down a notch afterwards.
“They’re an opponent just like anybody else, we’re trying to beat them,” said Bautista. “There’s some history there and that adds a little bit to it, but when the game starts you focus on winning the game.”
Things got heated right in the first, when Bautista was grazed on the chest by an 0-1 fastball from Wright, stared out to the mound, exchanged words with catcher Matt Wieters, ripped off his protective gear and vented to Bucknor, who immediately warned both dugouts.
When manager John Gibbons ran out to argue, he immediately got tossed, and while he got his money’s worth at the plate, Bautista could be seen shouting, “Don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me,” at the Orioles dugout from first base.
“I’m not going to contribute to turn this into TMZ or a gossip column,” said Bautista, who later when asked if he thought Wright threw at him on purpose replied: “It was suspicious but I don’t have any proof. We’re starting to talk about things that I don’t want to talk about. We won a game, we have a great thing going on, the last three weeks we’ve been playing great baseball, we’re winning a lot of games, I’m not going to change our focus or turn this into a circus.”
Bucknor nearly served as a catalyst for that in trying to prevent one from breaking out by issuing his quick warning and fast ejection.
What did Gibbons do to get thrown out?
“Great question,” he replied. “I’ve seen it so many times when umpires give warnings, I’ve been out there before to talk about it, I’ve seen other managers do it, I don’t see ejections. I don’t know, there was a little paranoia or something there. I don’t think that’s right, I think I have the right to question it. Our player is standing there at home plate, so I was a little bit shocked with that.”
Eventually things calmed, and the Blue Jays proceeded to get retribution with their bats, with Edwin Encarnacion ripping a double to left-centre that easily scored Bautista before Justin Smoak dropped a ground-rule double into the left-field corner for a 2-0 lead.
The next inning, Wright completely lost the zone, walking Ryan Goins, allowing a single to Jose Reyes before issuing consecutive free passes to Josh Donaldson and Bautista, the latter on four pitches not remotely near strikes, to bring in another run.
Wright was done after that, with Tyler Wilson entering and promptly issuing a five-pitch walk to Encarnacion that made it 4-0 before inducing a 4-6-3 double play from Smoak to escape further damage.
“Obviously I wasn’t trying to hit Bautista,” said Wright. “He’s really comfortable in the box and he’s really close to the plate. He likes to hit away pitches so you pitch him in. I pitched him in. I accidentally hit him. We got warned and it’s kind of tough to go in on another guy because obviously if you hit somebody, then you’re gone out of the game.”
Dioner Navarro added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to make it 5-0, just as Estrada really hit his stride.
He worked around a pair of two-out walks in a 25-pitch first, issued walks in both the second and third, the latter to open the inning before he struck out the side, starting a run of 15 straight outs.
Pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes ended Estrada’s no-hit bid leading off the eighth with a looper to left just out of Jose Reyes’ reach, and bench coach DeMarlo Hale came to get him, a crowd of 32,322 standing to fete him.
“I wanted to keep going, if I had to throw 200 pitches today I would have,” said Estrada. “It’s unfortunate I gave up that hit, I looked up and saw my pitch count was at 118 and I knew that was going to be it for me.”
In came Osuna, who after a strikeout of David Lough, surrendered singles to Manny Machado and Chris Parmelee to bring home a run, before hitting Jones on a 3-1 pitch. Bucknor immediately tossed Osuna and Hale, bringing out the acting manager for another long argument.
“I know when they issue warnings that comes down to judgment, and considering the timing of it, do you want to bring the tying run to the plate with a hit batter?” said Gibbons. “I don’t understand that one. Fortunately we won the game.”
Said Jones: “At the end of the day, the pitcher’s got to be able to pitch inside. I don’t mind if the ball is coming inside. I don’t mind it. If I went up there and knew 100 percent that they couldn’t come inside and I had the whole outside plate to look at, that changes things up. You got to respect the game, it didn’t bother me at all.”
Eventually, with first base coach Tim Leiper acting as manager, Steve Delabar came in, induced a run-scoring grounder from Chris Davis and after a walk to Wieters, an inning-ending popper by J.J. Hardy.
Brett Cecil took over in the ninth, recorded two outs, loaded the bases when he hit Parmelee and after a two-run Jones single made it a one-run game, struck out Davis for the final out. Fittingly, Dioner Navarro had to throw Davis out at first to end the game.
“That was a tough one for sure,” said Cecil. “I feel like the only ball they hit hard was Delmon Young’s ball to centre field [for an out]. Two dinks to right field – a win’s a win though.”
The emotions are sure to get hotter as the stakes only rise from here for the Blue Jays and Orioles, whose rivalry isn’t the only bitter one in the AL East, but without a doubt is becoming the most entertaining.