ARLINGTON, Texas – Let there be no doubt about Matt Bush’s intentions in the moment of vengeance for the Texas Rangers against Jose Bautista, his no comment to the media an essential confirmation that he purposely threw at the Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder.
Let there also be no doubt about Bautista’s motivations when he slid aggressively at Rougned Odor, an act designed to display his anger over getting struck in the ribs rather than injure the rival second baseman. He would have gone in spikes high, or deviated from the base path, to accomplish that.
The fallout from those two moments led to a ferocious eighth-inning brawl Sunday in the Rangers’ 7-6 win over the Blue Jays, providing a wild epilogue to the epic seventh frame from Game 5 of the American League Division Series between the clubs.
Odor socking Bautista in the jaw is now the counter-point to the all-star right-fielder’s bat flip, a pound of flesh the Rangers had insisted they didn’t want. The Blue Jays were particularly unimpressed that the revenge didn’t come until the eighth inning of the final regular-season game between them this season.
Manager John Gibbons said it was "gutless," Josh Donaldson called it, "the easy way out for them," while Bautista described it as "cowardly."
"I didn’t really think it would cross their mind to do something like that," he added, "but I guess it shows a little bit of their colours."
And while Rangers manager Jeff Banister made a point of saying Bush didn’t throw at Bautista – "I’m not going to entertain that talk or question," he said, and added later, "to think we’re going to put the tying run on purpose, I’m sorry" – his words required a major suspension of disbelief.
"We’ve played seven games," said Gibbons, "the other 29 teams out there, if they have an issue with you, they come at you right away. To wait until the end that just kind of tells me a little something. …
"Everybody is going to say it was a one-run game, ball got away. Come on. Guys in the game, that play the game, know better than that. That ain’t going to fly. … We didn’t think it was going to happen because of the first few games. It was two good teams battling in the playoffs last year, we were down 2-0, came back and won three straight. I thought all of that was behind us but apparently not."
That the Rangers felt the need to seek retribution – to the delight of a braying crowd of 41,327 that asininely chanted U-S-A at times during the fracas – underlines how polarizing Bautista’s bat flip remains all these months later.
Rather than being angry at Bautista’s expression of joy after an iconic post-season moment, the Rangers should be mad at Elvis Andrus’ historically inept inning in the field, or at Sam Dyson for making a terrible pitch.
Instead, their troglodytic ethos blamed Bautista for disrespecting the game, and that justified touching off a brawl that could have injured players on both clubs, actions that in real life leads to arrests.
So no worries, all good in the hood, got it?
"There’s a lot we could talk about," said Banister. "We could talk about it for an hour. But I don’t have that time. I’ve got a bird to catch."
Said Bautista: "Obviously everybody felt like they crossed the line. It shows at least the apparent lack of leadership they have over there when it comes to playing baseball the right way. Baseball plays are supposed to be taken care of by baseball plays. I thought it was pretty cowardly of them to wait until my last at-bat to do that, in the whole series. They could have come out and done it if they just wanted to kind of send a message. It shows a little bit more of their colours."
The Rangers had just taken a 7-6 lead with a four-run seventh, capped by Ian Desmond’s three-run homer off Jesse Chavez, when Bush took the mound in the eighth. His first pitch was a 96 mph fastball right into Bautista’s ribcage.
"It was very blatant," said Donaldson. "The guy throws straight four-seamers. You go look at the replay, he throws it right at him."
Bautista stared out at the mound, but didn’t charge. Iassogna immediately warned both dugouts and Bautista complained pointedly to crew chief Dale Scott at first base upon his arrival there. "It was (96), up around the upper torso, I was kind of surprised (the brawl) didn’t happen then," said Donaldson.
Had Bush been ejected immediately, the temperature in the game might have been cooled. Instead, emotions simmered, and Justin Smoak’s grounder to third, leading Adrian Beltre to throw a relay to Odor and Bautista to slide through the bag, made things boil over.
"I was frustrated that the warning was put on," said Bautista. "If they want to set an example, and they feel like they threw at me on purpose, they should have ejected him."
Speaking to a pool reporter Scott, who was behind the plate in Game 5 last fall, said he issued a warning "because Bautista gave a reaction that he wasn’t happy with being hit. Because of that reaction and what had happened in the previous season, I deemed it enough to issue a warning."
That decision left the Blue Jays unable to respond the next inning without an automatic ejection, and set in motion the events that led to Bautista’s slide.
"Definitely my opinion is that the whole situation was mismanaged by umpires," he said. "I had a hard slide at second base. I could have injured him, I chose not to. I just tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit."
Odor didn’t appreciate the slide, either. He turned, shoved Bautista and then connected on a punch to the jaw. Beltre ran over from third, quickly wrapped up Bautista and pulled him away as a wild melee that spilled into right field erupted.
"Pretty surprised and obviously that’s the only reason he got me, and he got me pretty good so I have to give him that," Bautista said of the punch. "But it takes a little bit of a bigger man, I guess, to knock me down."
Blue Jays bullpen catcher Jason Phillips got into it with Dyson, the holier-than-thou master of baseball etiquette who surrendered the bat-flip homer and caused the benches to clear twice, several other punches were thrown and all kinds of unseen stuff happened between bodies in the scrum.
By the time all was said and done, Odor, Bautista, Donaldson and Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele were all tossed. The next inning, Chavez hit Prince Fielder in the leg with his first pitch, immediately walked off the mound toward the dugout knowing he was ejected, but both dugouts sprinkled out again, although the teams remained separated.
Russell Martin popped up from his crouch, hopped down the first base line daring any Rangers to make a move. "Just protecting my teammates," he said. "If they’re going to get to my pitcher, they’re going to have to come through me first."
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale, running the Blue Jays after Gibbons was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the third inning, was automatically dismissed, too. Blue Jays first base coach Tim Leiper had also been tossed for apparently arguing some non-balk calls in the top of the third.
Plenty of supplementary discipline looms, especially for Gibbons, who returned to the field to try and calm the situation but ended up chewing out Banister, who egged on the crowd by wiping his hands and throwing them up.
"That’s my team out there," said Gibbons. "I didn’t want to sit here and drink too much wine. I’m sure the league will say something about that but it’s kind of a manager’s responsibility, I thought.
"You try to be a mediator and settle things down. It’s viewed differently by different eyes."
That’s already taken place, as the Blue Jays-Rangers rivalry has a new chapter.