A fracas occurred at yesterday's Blue Jays-Rangers game. Jose Bautista slid hard in to second, and Rougned Odor explained his opinion of the situation by way of a right cross to Bautista's face. Then a whole lot of pushing and grabbing and red faces ensued. While the whole situation is bananas, there are some interesting takes on "unwritten rules" and long memories, with a little Padres twist mixed in. If you didn't see the smackdown, here it is in all its condensed glory:
The emotions driving this incident go back to last year's ALDS game. An odd thing happened when Shin-Soo Choo was adjusting himself between pitches and Russell Martin hit Choo's bat with his toss back to the pitcher. Instinctively, the runner on third base, Rougned Odor, broke for home while the rest of the field stood around not sure of what just happened. Home plate umpire Dale Scott (yes, that Dale Scott) called the play properly and awarded Odor home plate. Since this happened in Toronto, the fans started going bananas and throwing stuff on to the field in protest of a call that was indisputably correct.
That run put the Rangers up 3-2. Before that run, the Blue Jays appeared to be hanging on but the disruption of the review and subsequent spectator holliganery seemed to sway the momentum toward the Rangers. Elvis Andrus did everything he could to reverse that momentum with three errors (not all recorded as his errors, but c'mon, check the tape), a caught-stealing, and a strikeout in a pivotal moment. Through all of that, the Rangers still held the lead.
The fans saw that one-run lead as a gifted lead from a BS call, which I will reiterate, was the correct call on the field. Then the Blue Jays got a couple of runners on in the bottom of the inning, and when Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate, you had the feeling that something special was about to happen. It did, in the most glorious of ways.
Whether you took issue with his now-iconic bat flip or not, it was a huge moment for the team and for the franchise. Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson certainly took offense, and another gathering happened at the conclusion of the inning. The Jays went on to win the series, but you know that this game stayed on everyone's mind for a long time.
What Happened Yesterday?
Okay, enough background. Now it's 2016, and the Rangers face the Blue Jays a total of seven times. The final meeting between these two teams was yesterday, in Arlington. In the bottom of the eighth inning and leading by one, Rangers pitcher Matt Bush (former first overall Padres pick and former general trash of a human being) plunked Bautista in the ribs. Matt Bush has been anything but wild so far in his first MLB action, so the pitch didn't appear to be accidental. Bautista took first base as instructed, but took the first available opportunity to retaliate in the video posted above by taking Odor out at second with an illegal slide. Odor responded with an illegal punch to the face. Bautista demonstrated that he can take a punch, while Beltre bear-hugged him away from the situation. Both benches cleared, lots of pushing and shoving and jumping and pointing and redfacing ensued, and eventually a handful of players were ejected. For those interested, Bautista was ruled with interference on the play and a double play was the resulting decision. Note that this isn't a "Chase Utley slide rule" interpretation, this is proper application of a rule that is probably over a century old.
Unwritten Rules & A Beanball
From the Blue Jays' perspective, Bautista had it coming after he stood at home plate for a second to admire his dinger, and then emphatically flipped his bat, which "showed up" Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson. I'm sure a few people out there expected Bautista to wear one at some point this season. Whether you think that's an appropriate method of retaliation, there's still some etiquette involved. Typically that kind of retaliation is made at the next appropriate opportunity. The Rangers visited the Blue Jays for a four-game series earlier in May, but maybe you don't do that as a visiting team. Okay, so then maybe the first game in Arlington would be more fitting. But you don't wait until the guy's final at-bat of the final matchup on the schedule to do that.
Martin Perez was the starting pitcher in the first game of the home series, and he was on the postseason roster for the previous melee. To go into even greater detail, Bautista came up in the bottom of the first inning of that game with two outs and nobody on, which would be a convenient time to give a free pass - well, almost free because he'd have to earn it by wearing some leather. That's an ideal time to put out a hit on a guy to send a message and set a tone. They didn't do that, so I don't think there was a message around the clubhouse that Bautista needed to wear one for the flip.
Matt Bush probably didn't see Game 5 of the ALDS last year, because he was in prison serving a three-year sentence for running over and gravely injuring an elderly motorcyclist while driving very drunk after being kicked out of a strip club, and he was suspected of two other hit-and-runs earlier that same day. Not only was he not on the Rangers roster last October, he wasn't in professional sports. Maybe he did it to try to earn some "street cred" with his new team, I don't know. All I can say is that it was the wrong person at the wrong time to do such a thing. I can see why Bautista would see it as a "chicken shit" kind of move.
The Hard Slide
Justin Smoak hit in to what looked like a straightforward double play, until Bautista came in "hard and high" on Odor. While his intent was clearly to disrupt the play, he didn't appear to attempt any harm on Odor, as long as Odor got off the bag before he got there. It was very similar to the famous Chase Utley slide from last postseason that has caused MLB to reconsider its application of existing rules as well as the addition of a new rule to further limit this kind of hard slide. Bautista was already out, and Smoak was also ruled out on Bautista's runner's interference. A dirty play for certain, and the rules were properly applied to punish the unsportsmanlike move.
Bautista got up, and Odor got up in his face. They shoved each other, and then Odor unleashed one heck of a right cross, perfectly placed on Bautista's cheek. I'm not a fighter, but I have to appreciate a well-executed punch like this. Check that animated gif again. Odor narrowly missed the earflap and brim of the helmet and solidly connected with a punch thrown from the hips in textbook boxer form. That is a punch from a man who has hit another man before. Also note the graceful rotation of Odor's gold chain. It won't make his MLB retrospective highlight reel, but I think this moment will go down like the famous Nolan Ryan - Robin Ventura meeting as a defining moment in his career.
While the punch was remarkable, it was entirely uncalled for and an inappropriate act. Bautista got plunked, and the timing gave him no other opportunity for any other reaction. Was Bautista wrong to slide hard into Odor? Yeah, but we still see players making that move as it's slowly being taught out of the MLB game. Pushing and shoving and namecalling is one thing, physical assault is another. If you watch the gif above again, you'll see that Bautista had no intent to hit Odor until he saw that a punch was coming his way, so Odor can't claim self-defense. I've seen people calling it a "sucker punch"; well it wasn't, as Bautista saw it coming the whole way.
Hopefully this ugly incident finally put all of this to bed. The Rangers were probably raw from last year's ALDS, and now there's bad blood all around, but I think they've said all that there is to say. Baseball's "unwritten rules" are a nefarious and misunderstood thing, but at some point these men need to act like professionals and put the past behind them.