The moments that define Jose Bautista’s Blue Jays’ tenure

Sportsnet's Donnovan Bennett sits down with Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista to share some photos with him of his time in Toronto.

TORONTO – Really, it was a nothing deal. The Toronto Blue Jays needed some help to cover a Scott Rolen injury. The Pittsburgh Pirates had turned the page. Alex Anthopoulos, then an assistant GM, spotted Jose Bautista on the waiver wire and took it to general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who told him to get a deal done.

On Aug. 21, 2008, he did, and Ricciardi described Bautista’s acquisition this way: “I’m not trying to send the wrong message – this guy isn’t like Mike Schmidt. He’s not going to come out here and hit 40 home runs. But he’s a guy that can hit double-digit home runs for us in a spot where right now we need some help.”

Ricciardi was right about Schmidt. Bautista definitely isn’t like him. And he was right about Bautista being able to hit double-digit home runs. But boy was he wrong about Bautista’s ceiling, just like the rest of baseball. On Aug. 25, the player to be named that went to the Pirates became Robinzon Diaz, a fading never-going-to-be catching prospect. Diaz never was, and Bautista developed into a franchise icon.

The Blue Jays’ resurgence over the past decade, the end of a 21-year post-season drought, consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series, the countless memorable moments from No. 19 all trace back to that day.

“Right now, Rolen is hurt,” Bautista said upon his arrival. “He’ll be back and it’s his position. I’ve been told that specifically, but I’ll step in and play there until he comes back, and then play different outfield positions. I can move around and they’re going to use me like they can.”

Sunday, Bautista will play what will all but assuredly be his final home game with the Blue Jays, with only six road games to follow before one of the most important and significant tenures with the team is expected to close. Manager John Gibbons is likely to find a way for fans to fete him, pulling him either after a hit or from the field defensively late in the game.

It will add another highlight to perhaps the most eventful runs for any Blue Jays player.

Aug. 22, 2008 – Bautista’s first day with the Blue Jays allowed him to begin the reset he needed after parts of five unsteady years with the Pirates system. “For some reason, it just wasn’t a good fit for me,” he said. “Me and the manager (John Russell) and maybe the people that kept a direct relationship in the front office with him just couldn’t see eye to eye on a couple things. It’s just how the ball rolls sometimes.”

Sept. 2, 2008 – Bautista hit his first homer with the Blue Jays in a 7-5 win over the visiting Minnesota Twins, a two-run shot off Glen Perkins in the fifth inning that was part of a four-hit day.

Oct. 4, 2009 – Quietly, Bautista caps a 10-homer month with a solo shot in a season-ending 5-4 loss in 11 innings at Baltimore. But his performance is lost amid clubhouse discontent that boils over into public complaints about manager Cito Gaston, and the firing of Ricciardi. But, employing the changes at the plate Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy helped him implement, the seeds of his stardom are planted.

May 31, 2010 – Attention growing as his power surge at the end of ’09 extends into the new season, Bautista hits his big-league leading 16th home run of the season in a 6-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles. It was also his 12th homer of the month, tying what was at the time a team record. “Seeing myself on top of the leaderboard? Yes, it is exciting,” he said. “I would be lying if I said no.”

June 4, 2010 – Bautista hits a pair of home runs in a 6-1 win over the New York Yankees, his 17th and 18th of the season, surpassing his previous career high of 16. “I’ve never done it as consistent, but, then again, I never had the approach that I have now,” Bautista said. “I never got ready as early as I do now…. This is uncharted water for me, but it feels good.”

Aug. 23, 2010 – Greeted in the morning by a blog post from Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox who wrote, “you’ve got to at least ask the question” if Bautista’s power spike was fuelled by performance-enhancing substances, the slugger responded with a game that really started his legend. In the third, he pounded a two-run shot off Ivan Nova to left that opened a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, Nova knocked Bautista down with a high fastball, Bautista reacted angrily and the benches cleared for some angry-talk. Then in the eighth, Bautista hammered a David Robertson offering for his 40th homer of the season, dropping his bat, glaring out to the mound and taking 28 seconds to round the bases. “I don’t think it was because it was No. 40,” he said. “It was a tight game, pretty late. I knew if we took the lead, we needed three outs to win it and given what had transpired earlier, I enjoyed it pretty good.” On the dust-up with Nova, Bautista said, “instinctively, I was kind of upset. I was just trying to see what kind of reaction I was going to get. I was surprised to see he was pretty defiant. He was walking up toward me and was flashing his hands up and yelling. That’s when I felt that the pitch was intentional.” And as for Cox, Bautista replied simply: “Well ask it. Don’t write about it.”


Sept. 23, 2010 – Bautista hits homer No. 50, off Felix Hernandez in the first inning of what finished as a 1-0 win over Seattle, becoming just the 26th player in the majors to reach the plateau. “I came to this organization in a critical point in my career. I needed another chance and I found it here. Maybe not right away, but eventually,” he said. “Ever since I got here, they told me that they believed in my ability. (Cito) was the one that told me so. I believed that myself as well. All I needed was another chance and I got it here. That and the changes that I made in the approach and the swing have ultimately led to this success. I’m very thankful to the organization for giving me that second chance.”

May 15, 2011 – After going deep in each of the first two games of a series in Minnesota, Bautista launches three more in the finale – the only three-homer game of his career. “It’s ridiculous, I mean it feels like a dream right now and I sometimes can’t really believe it myself. I’m just executing right now,” he said. “You can’t help but feel good and confident when you’re hitting the ball like this and being that successful. I definitely feel like I’m on time and I can pretty much see the ball from any pitcher right now so I just got to stay where I am.”

Oct. 24, 2011 – Having answered any doubts about whether his 2010 breakout was legitimate by following it up with a tremendous ’11, Bautista is awarded his second straight Hank Aaron Award as his league’s best hitter. After the presentation, he’s asked if he thinks he’s the AL MVP. “Well, of course I do,” he replied. “If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be a person that liked myself a lot. But there’s a lot of people that had great years, and they’re also very worthy of getting the award. There are a lot of things that go into it. It’s not only about production and numbers, so I’m just grateful to be considered and I’ve got my fingers crossed.” Bautista ended up third, behind Justin Verlander and Jacoby Ellsbury.

July 9, 2012 – The Blue Jays lost starting pitchers Drew Hutchison, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek to long-term injuries in the span of four outings in early June, and during the all-star break, Bautista used his voice publicly in a way he hadn’t before. “They know what they have to address, it’s just a matter of getting it done and I know they’re actively out there trying to make our club better continuously. Hopefully they come through and are able to make a good move.”

July 16, 2012 – In his fourth game back after finishing second in the home run derby, Bautista ripped a ball foul at Yankee Stadium before collapsing to the ground in agony, holding his left wrist. “The only thing that I can think of is that I hung on with both hands maybe longer than I usually do. Maybe my wrist got turned in a direction that it never gets turned. That maybe put too much stress in the area and maybe kind of hyperextended it. It’s just a strain, in an area where luckily no ligaments were damaged, but it did get irritated.”

Aug. 28, 2012 – His attempt to return from a wrist injury done after one at-bat in his second game back, Bautista heads for surgery to repair a damaged sheath failing to hold the tendon on the outside of his wrist. He finishes batting .241/.358/.527 with 27 homers and 65 RBIs in 399 plate appearances. “I didn’t have the consistency I wanted to but I think I picked it up in the production and was able to contribute,” he said. “What I really wanted to do at the beginning of the year was remain healthy, and I said that many times, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to. At least I can put my head on my pillow and know it wasn’t because of a lack of work or a lack of preparation, it’s just an accident that happens on a baseball play. You can’t control those things.”

April 3, 2013 – Before the second game of what turned out to be an unfulfilled season of promise for the Blue Jays, Bautista discusses another rough night with the umpires and utters one of his most infamous lines about the men in black. “Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else’s mediocrity. It’s just the way I am as a person. It’s a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes.” Later, he added: “I’m not a robot and I control my emotions 100 per cent of the time, so that’d be pretty tough. I don’t know (about there being a political factor), that’s more for you to kind of dictate it yourself. I mean, is that professional? Just because one guy reacts more than the other, then every single time there’s a close pitch it’s a strike? Or are you going to go by the parameters defined by Major League Baseball, what’s a strike and what’s a ball? I’ll let you decide what’s right and what’s wrong on that one. It’s not my place to decide.”

May 22, 2013 – A signature game. Bautista became the first player in Blue Jays history to both hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and then deliver a game-ending hit, an RBI single, in extra innings, finishing 4-for-4 with two home runs, four RBIs and a walk in a 4-3, 10-inning win over Tampa Bay. “Any time you have a walkoff win it’s exciting. It’s a rubber game, it was pretty important to us, a division game against a team we haven’t won a series against in a long time.”

June 22, 2013 – One of his most famous rivalries is born in the eighth inning when Bautista launched a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Darren O’Day lifted the Blue Jays to a 4-2 win over the Orioles. The previous night the two exchanged words after O’Day struck out Bautista, and this time, as he approached home, he shouted at the right-hander and made a keep yapping gesture his hand. “I told him just to keep talking like he was yesterday because he kind of ran his mouth a little bit after he struck me out. I don’t know where that came from, but I didn’t appreciate it and I let him know that yesterday. That’s a little reminder today that I didn’t appreciate it.” Prior to the previous night, the two had no history. “I don’t have a problem when pitchers celebrate with getting a big out in an inning, but when I can’t really hear what you’re saying it upsets me a little bit.”

Aug. 20, 2013 – For a second straight year, injury forces Bautista from a game in New York as he exits an 8-4 loss at Yankee Stadium with a bone bruise in his left hip. “I’m not expecting to be shut down,” he said afterwards. “From what the doctor said, and I have full trust in his diagnosis, after the two weeks he expects the bone bruise to be somewhat healed if not completely, then after that a couple days of baseball action, and I’ll be ready to go.” He didn’t play the rest of the season.

July 31, 2014 – Only a game and a half back in the AL East and in possession of a wild card spot, the Blue Jays stand pat as the non-waiver trade deadline passes, and Bautista wasn’t impressed. “Of course it’s a little disappointing that we somehow weren’t able to get anything done, but everybody around us that’s in contention – and even some teams that aren’t in contention, like the Red Sox – somehow figured it out. But there’s still time to get stuff done.” Later, he added: “We’re in striking distance with not many games left and we could’ve used a little boost, just like some of the other teams that went out and got some additions. It’s not that you don’t feel your team is good enough; it’s just that everybody does that at the deadline, figures out a way to improve the roster. We just somehow didn’t.”

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Aug. 25, 2014 – Bautista’s relationship with umpires again comes into focus as the day after he gets ejected for a seemingly mild argument with Bill Welke after a called third strike, his leadership becomes a point of debate. “I feel what I said and what I did didn’t warrant an ejection, but I did get ejected and I don’t have anybody else to blame for that, that’s my fault,” said Bautista. “But I also wanted to say what I wanted to say … without cursing, without raising my voice, without being animated, without showing him up, and I don’t think that when you do that in a polite manner you should get ejected.”

Sept. 16, 2014 – Not only do the Orioles clinch the AL East with an 8-2 win over the Blue Jays, but O’Day also hits Bautista with his second pitch of the eighth inning, prompting home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild to warn both teams. Bautista stood at the plate after getting hit, calmly took off his protective equipment and calmly took first base without looking at O’Day. “I suspected that something might have been coming. I don’t mind it at all. I know how the game is played and it’s part of it. I just thought it was a little weird that they threw a first pitch breaking ball for a strike and then hit me instead of just hitting me right away. I guess they wanted to have a little leeway to use it as an excuse to say that they weren’t trying to. Everyone knows they were trying to. They should have just manned up and hit me with first pitch.”

April 12, 2015 – Another instalment of the Bautista-O’Day rivalry plays out in the eighth inning of a 10-7 Blue Jays win in Baltimore as after ducking from a pitch by the reliever, he pops a two-run shot to put the game out of reach. Bautista briefly glared at O’Day after the pitch that sailed past him and took his time rounding the bases before going on a high-five rampage in the dugout afterwards. “Emotion, the moment, there’s history there. He’s hit me a few times, he’s thrown behind me a few times, and I’ve gotten him a few times. It was emotion in the moment, he threw one behind me, it’s a one-run game, it’s late, it gave my time a three-run lead instead of a one-run lead going into the eighth and ninth. It’s an exciting part of the game,” said Bautista. “I think this is the only guy that this happens with in the whole league, at least for me. I don’t have any history with anybody. The only reason why I have a history with this guy is because on one particular, I don’t know what day of the week it was, he struck me out and he started yapping at me. After that it’s been a back and forth of emotional situations. There was a similar one in Toronto, I hit another home run, then he hit me here, then today, he throws behind me, hit another home run. That’s the way it goes. I’m going to face him again, I’m looking forward to those challenges.” Bautista also managed to get a nice dig in, too. “It’s different for everybody that’s on the mound and different for every pitcher. At least with him I know he’s not going to blow 87 miles an hour by me.”

April 21, 2015 – Again an Orioles pitcher threw behind Jose Bautista – this time rookie Jason Garcia – and again he made them pay for it, cranking a two-run homer in the seventh inning of a 13-6 win. Bautista celebrated his way around the bases again, drawing angry words from several Orioles players, with the chirping continuing during the changeover at the inning’s end. His blood still boiling, Bautista attempted to throw out Delmon Young at first base from right field on a single, injuring his shoulder in the process. “I think it’s all pretty well planned out and premeditated, and I think they hide behind the way their manager (Buck Showalter) acts and conducts himself on the field. They’re going to continue to keep doing that until something comes down from MLB,” Bautista said angrily afterwards. “I’m an emotional player, I play with a lot of passion, you throw at me, I’m not going to forget. If I get you right after then I’m going to enjoy it. And I did. I’ve got no regrets about it.” Bautista also had a particularly heated exchange with Adam Jones. “The only thing I heard was him saying that was bush league, or something, or another word that kind of sounds like bush league, because apparently I took my time when I hit the ball, when what I thought what was bush league or whatever adjective he used to describe the play was throwing behind me. That’s what I thought, that was the bush-league move, not me doing what I did.”

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Sept. 30, 2015 – Bautista hits his 40th homer in a 15-2 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards that clinches the Blue Jays’ first AL East title since 1993, triggering a wild party. “It has been a long time coming. The city hasn’t had the best of luck with any of the professional sports teams. We’re the second, because the Raptors made it to the playoffs (the last two years), but hopefully we get to go a little deeper and bring the championship home.”

Oct. 8, 2015 – Playing his first career post-season game, Bautista homers in the sixth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Texas Rangers, and also leaves the game in the ninth inning with mild hamstring tightness. “I feel much better now. I did some rehab and treatment,” he said in a bit of foreshadowing. “Should be good to go.”

Oct. 14, 2015 – Bautista delivers his defining moment with the Blue Jays, and arguably the most electric swing in franchise history, with his dramatic seventh-inning homer in Game 5 the American League Division Series. Punctuated by a bat flip that the Rangers still haven’t gotten over, his three-run shot led to a 6-3 victory that capped a rally from a 2-0 series deficit and will live on for generations in baseball lore. “Everything that happened kind of led to that big moment with the home run, and that’s what made it fun, obviously, because we won,” he said. “It was unbelievable competition. Everybody was trying to win for their team, and you see it on a slide at second base, a reaction after a strikeout, a reaction after a base hit and that’s what baseball’s all about. Just play with your heart, play with emotion and just try to win.”

Oct. 23, 2015 – Bautista became the first Blue Jays player to hit multiple home runs in a single post-season game by hitting two in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Kansas City. The second tied the game 3-3 in the eighth, but the Royals scored in the bottom of the inning and won 4-3 to advance. “I was just trying to make something positive happen when I came up to the plate,” said Bautista, who sprained his ankle on his first home run, but managed to stay in the game. “I was able to come through twice, unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Sour loss, but we had enough opportunities to do more and we didn’t. They deserved the win.”

Feb. 22, 2016 – During a riveting session with media before the opening of spring training, the pending free agent revealed the Blue Jays asked what it would take to sign him to an extension and he told them during a meeting. The number, still disputed, was later leaked as $150 million over six years. The theatre was spectacular. “I’m not willing to negotiate even right now. I don’t think there should be any negotiation. I think I’ve proved myself and the question has been asked, what will it take, and I’ve given them an answer. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and try to bargain for a couple dollars,” he said, adding later: “Baseball has a great way of measuring each player’s value and it’s about how much of that they’re willing to share with a player. I understand the business, I don’t believe in the whole budget and payroll, I don’t believe in any of that stuff, I know exactly how baseball works, especially a team that’s structured the way we are.” Bautista also dismissed the notion of a hometown discount, saying memorably that “doesn’t exist, not in my world; in my eyes I’ve given this organization a five-year hometown discount already.”

May 15, 2016 – The day after Bautista played career game No. 1,000, the Rangers exacted their vengeance for the bat flip, with Matt Bush hitting him in the eighth inning of the final regular-season game between the teams. Bautista demonstrated his displeasure by sliding aggressively into second baseman Rougned Odor, triggering a ferocious brawl in which Odor infamously landed a big punch to Bautista’s jaw. “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.” While the Rangers denied it, there was no doubt about Bush’s intentions. “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.”

Oct. 6, 2016 – Bautista homers and drives in four runs as the Blue Jays pound the Rangers 10-1 in Game 1 of an ALDS rematch they ended up sweeping in three games. “Everybody’s been battle-tested on this team, we have a great mix of veterans with young players that are really talented and the young guys see our lead and feed off of us,” said Bautista. “Nobody here gets worried in whatever situation we might be in. We were down 0-2 last year in the same series and we were able to come back. This year we just played better games early on in the series. We’ve got to continue to do that.”

Oct. 19, 2016 – The Blue Jays fall 3-0 in the fifth game of the ALCS and are eliminated by Cleveland. In what might have been his last at-bat with the club, Bautista doubles in the ninth inning and a crowd of 48,800 stood and sang the “Jose, Jose, Jose” song so familiar at the dome. “As a player you notice when the crowd gets a little bit louder than normal and obviously potentially that being my last at-bat as a home player here, it’s in the back of your head,” he said. “But once I stepped into the box I blocked it off, just trying to focus on the task at hand and was able to tune it out a little bit. But it was great being in that position and knowing all those people are rooting for you and are behind you.”

Jan 18, 2017 – After a difficult off-season for both Bautista and the Blue Jays, the sides agree to a one-year deal that guarantees $18.5 million and includes a mutual option for 2018 and a vesting option for 2019. His tone is much more muted a few days later at a news conference. “I’m a soldier,” he said. “One of 25 soldiers that’s out to win battles every day and to hopefully win the war at the end of the season.”

Aug. 11, 2017 – Bautista hits his 20th homer of the season in a 4-2 loss to the Pirates, giving him eight straight seasons with at least 20 homers, moving him into second in franchise history, behind only Carlos Delgado’s nine years at the plateau. Still, it comes amid a season of struggle in which his big moments are much fewer and far between. “Sometimes your swing and how you feel allow you to pull the trigger how you want and make contact more often on the pull side, but sometimes you just don’t. Sometimes your pitch recognition is there, sometimes it’s not,” he said. “My consistency has fluctuated this year more than ever in how I feel at the plate rhythm-wise, how I can manipulate the bat. That’s part of the game, I guess. It’s just hard sometimes to make the adjustments quick enough. Sometimes you make too many adjustments, too quick. It’s funny, I feel there have been swings in how pitchers are attacking me, drastic ones, from the first month to the second month to the third month. It’s a matter of adjusting quick and when they make another change just do it. I just haven’t been as good at it this year as I have in the past.”

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