TORONTO – It was a game that called for patience, or at the very least selective memory and an ability to keep your head when everybody else around you was in danger of losing it – probably, to a thrown beer can or a water bottle or some other projectile.
And this was how Edwin Encarnacion approached his at bat in the sixth inning, a walk and an intentional walk already in the books and his team down 2-1. We’re talking famine, folks – a Texas Rangers team that wanted no part of Encarnacion. None. Zippo. Josh Donaldson might be a most valuable player candidate and Jose Bautista is, well, Jose Bautista but it was Encarnacion that the Rangers decided to go after throughout the American League Division Series and despite Bautista’s telling three-run home run on Wednesday – well, the Blue Jays knew who struck the big blow.
“Sometimes, you have to concentrate but also be aggressive, even when you know they aren’t going to throw you anything,” said Encarnacion, whose first career post-season home run, a relatively modest solo effort, tied the score in the sixth inning before maybe the most remarkable inning of baseball in Blue Jays history since – you know.
“He missed it. It was a little bit in. Just a little bit.”
There were pitches that were in “just a little bit,” too in the first two games of the series at the Rogers Centre, when Encarnacion was 3-for-9 with an intentional walk and had to settle for the moral victories of a fly ball on the screws to centre field and a liner back to the mound. But this time, a little was enough. More than enough.
It wouldn’t be until the seventh inning before Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister decided he’d rather spend more time reading the rule book than a managing manual. This was when Game 5 of the ALDS was just sort of puttering along as a normal game – pitching, defence, a bit of hitting. Cole Hamels, the Rangers starter, was posting near season-high averages in fastball velocity. His cutter was filthy. But then, he missed a little bit in.
Just a little bit.
Full ALDS Game 5 Coverage
- Bautista ensures Blue Jays’ wild adventure lives on
- Blue Jays a disinfectant for Toronto’s wounded sports psyche
- Fan who caught Encarnacion’s HR ball: ‘I’m going to sleep with it’
- Rangers’ Andrus on two errors: This is the toughest point of my career
- Bautista home run brings Martin therapeutic relief
“It looked like they were trying to go middle away with the fastball,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said afterward. “He (Hamels) just pulled it back over the middle of the plate.”
Encarnacion would later be forced to play peacemaker in the seventh inning, when the Rangers scored a go-ahead run on a funky throwing error by Russell Martin and beer cans and plastic bottles started raining down. He was at the top of the dugout, angrily berating the crowd. The same thing happened in the seventh inning after Bautista’s pimped-out bat flip homer. Encarnacion stood awaiting his turn at bat and motioned to the stands, afraid that more projectiles were going to be thrown. Sam Dyson, the Rangers reliever, still seething from being shown up by Bautista – as an aside, Cleveland Indians infielder Jason Kipnis, aka @TheJK_Kid, tweeted: “If there’s anytime you should be allowed to pimp a home run.. Dammit that’s when you can do it! #dontbesensitive #thatwashuge” – took offence and the dugouts emptied.
Later, Martin talked about the middle of the Blue Jays order, and what he’d learned about his slugging teammates over the course of a long regular season and a riveting, emotional playoff.
Let’s start with Bautista, OK. “Well … one, don’t make a mistake to him,” Martin said, adroitly working a cork out of a bottle of Ace of Spades champagne. “Two, if you throw it at him, he’s going to hit a homer and three … he’s just an unbelievable competitor and he has the highest expectations for himself than anybody I have ever seen. He expects to be that guy and he was. And with that, I’m going to pop this bottle of Ace of Spades … and it’s going to taste great.”
As for Encarnacion? “As dangerous a hitter as there is in the American League,” Martin said, wiping his mouth and licking his lips. “He’ll hit your best fastball. He’ll hit your hanging breaking ball. That was the hit that got us back in the game. It was a rocket. From that point on … it made us believe.”
Gibbons said that he “kind of had a feeling that Eddie was about to erupt, too. He’s hit some wall-balls in the series, the first go-round here at home. The first couple of games. You knew he was close; it’s really hard to hold him down for five games.”
Bautista’s bat flip was epic. Joe Carter touched them all in 1993 … but it’s a wonder that Bautista didn’t moonwalk them all after all the nonsense of the top of the seventh. His blast wasn’t a homer as much as it was a round-house right; baseball’s equivalent of Mike Tyson grabbing his crotch in a raw show of testosterone.
“Everybody was trying to win for their team and you see it on that slide at second base, a reaction after a strikeout, a reaction after a base hit and I think that’s what baseball’s all about,” Bautista said, referring to Ben Revere’s takeout slide in the seventh. “Just play with your heart, play with emotion and try to win. I think I like watching players play that way because I know they’re giving it their all.
“I enjoyed the whole series,” he added.
On Friday, before the Blue Jays left for Texas, Aaron Sanchez spoke about the need to treat a trip to the post-season like something to be cherished. Not a birthright. And he talked about how it was Bautista and Encarnacion, post-season debutantes, who were the personification of that. How many years had Bautista been in the majors, Sanchez wondered last night as he wiped beer and champagne out of his eyes.
“Twelve,” he was told helpfully.
“Well,” Sanchez said, “I bet he’s waited 12 years to hit a home run like that.”
Twelve? A mere drop in the bucket, Aaron. Folks around here have been waiting 22 years. Matter of fact, I don’t know if Bautista and Encarnacion felt the weight of the world on their shoulders, but I can tell you that they were accompanied around the bases by millions of Canadians.