Ground flippin' zero of the Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry

Originally published April 4, 2016

By: Bob Elliott

It was the worst of times in Blue Jays land.

It was the very best of times.

It was both and then some all in less than an hour.

The Jays had played 55,762 innings in their 39-year history, including post season, when they began the 55,763rd Wednesday, Oct. 14 -- the seventh inning of the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. The score was 2-2.

It was a six-out inning like no other.

The Jays appeared set to lose an elimination game, the first ever decided by an action that takes place hundreds of time every night and almost always goes unrecorded. 

Think for a second how many times you have seen highlights of the Jose Bautista three-run, game-winner and the flip ... and ponder for a second if the final decisive play in Game 5 had not been the Bautista bomb, bur rather Russell Martin’s awkward flip to the mound which hit Shin-Soo Choo in the hand as the lead run score.

Could it have been the city’s Billy Buckner moment? 

Would it rank somewhere near the Toronto Maple Leafs losing to Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 or the Jays Melt Down in Mo Town in 1987. 

This spring four players independently described the disputed run as “maybe the worst moment in Toronto sports history,” which covers some ground ... especially when you are in your mid 20s and have been here a few years. They were not there for Butch Wynegar’s game-tying homer in the ninth and Lloyd Moseby’s error in Game 161 in 1985 or Jim Sundberg’s triple at Exhibition Stadium in 1985.

And then in the bottom half, three Rangers errors and a misplay saw the Jays even the score with two on and two out. 

Then Bautista went boom, went flip and the city went ... well kind of nutso.

Like when Joe Carter won the 1993 World Series. Carter’s homer was the first to bring a team from behind to win a World Series in the bottom of the ninth facing Mitch Williams in Game 6 of 1993. The top of the ninth? Duane Ward set down the Philadelphia Phillies 1-2-3 on seven pitches.

The year before Robbie Alomar shut up Dennis Eckersley and the imaginary six shooter firing into the Jays dugout in Oakland. Devon White singled and Alomar pulled a two-run homer to deep right in the top of the ninth, but in the bottom half Ward retired the A’s 1-2-3-4 on nine pitches.

No inning we remember had so much drama, disappointment, anger, fury, followed up by such excitement and pure joy as the seventh inning of Game 5.

* * *

Top of the seventh

6:14 pm _ After Encarnacion homered off Cole Hamels in the sixth, reliever Aaron Sanchez takes over for Marcus Stroman with the score tied 2-2, facing Odor and throws a 98 mph called first-pitch strike. 

Aaron Loup was pacing, not in the bullpen but on the second floor of Arlington Pediatric where his wife, Leighann, had been restricted to bed rest: “It was more never wracking watching on TV than pitching.”

6:15 _ Odor slapps a 2-1 pitch to left, the 1-1 pitch from Sanchez was 100 mph.

Inside the weight room Kevin Malloy along with clubhouse attendants Steve DeBenedictis, Mustafa (Moose) Hassan and Pat Ross are unpacking two brands of champagne: the cheaper kind for spraying and the more expensive for drinking. They are unsure whether the five blue laundry tubs of champagne and four red tubs for beer will go down the hall to the Blue Jays clubhouse or out the door and down the tunnel to the Rangers’ room. 

6:16 _ Chris Gimenez bunts down the first base line. Sanchez fields and fires to first baseman Chris Colabello for the first out, Odor moving to second. 

6:17 _ Delino DeShields checks his swing and hits a roller to third which Josh Donaldson charges. The ball kicks to his right, Donaldson reaches back without breaking stride bare hands the ball and fires a strike on the run to Colabello getting DeShields by a half step. Odor advances to third. If Donaldson doesn’t bare hand the ball it’s first and third, one out. 

Donaldson: “The second bounce off the turf can sometimes kick one way or the other.”

6:19 _ Martin catches an inside 94 mph fastball from Sanchez leveling the count at 2-2. Martin looks at third, as he has done a 10,000 times, to make sure Odor isn’t going any where, drops to his left knee, flips the ball to the mound as he has done a million times. Choo isn’t looking at Martin but rather he is routinely going through his between-pitch routine: he sticks his left arm out, uses his right arm to tug on left sleeve with his right hand. Martin’s throw hits Choo’s left hand, the ball trickling along third. Plate ump Dale Scott waves off the play and points Odor, racing home, back to third. Scott, wearing a mike and can be heard saying “No, no, no.” 

Fox Sports’ Harold Reynolds gets it right from the start asking: “Why is the ball dead? The ball is alive.” 

William Humber tells his Seneca College Spring Training for Fans class in February “When you watch the replay, Harold Reynolds was right a lot when we know what is happening.” 

Rangers manager Jeff Bannister comes out to talk to Scott.

Martin: “First time I’ve been involved in a play like that in my life. I wasn’t sure what the rule was. If he’s in the box, there’s nothing wrong. If he’s outside the box, he’s out. He was in the box. I heard the ump (call it dead). They got together and went over the rule. They got it right. You have like eight brains out there. You’re going to get it right.”

6:21 _ Scott gathers his crew Dan Bellino, James Hoye, Vic Carapazza, Alfonso Marquez, and Marvin Hudson. Scott covers his mouth as he speaks, like a pitcher talking to his catcher with men on second and third.

Upstairs on Level 300 former manager Cito Gaston and gold glove winner Devon White tell president Paul Beeston they thought it was a dead ball ... the runner should stay at third. Beeston complains to Peter Woodfork, senior vice president of baseball operations over the call. 

Injured second baseman Devon Travis in his living room in West Palm Beach, Fla. watching the game with his brother Jordan, sister Jada, mother and father, Tammy and Tony: “How can we lose a game on such a basic a play as a throw back to the pitcher?” 

Loup: “The wheels were falling off.”

6:22 _ Scott rules the run counts. Out ambles John Gibbons accompanied by the first few beer cans tossed onto the turf below.

The cans hit the turf like torpedoes ... landing, beer spewing out one end and moving across the infield a few feet. 

Scott would say later: “My mistake. I was mixing up two rules and called time, then it started clicking. I went ‘wait a minute, wait a minute,’ there’s no intent on the hitter. He’s in the box, the bat’s in the box.’’

Martin: “It wasn’t intentional. He was fixing his elbow guard. I threw it back casually.”

6:25 _ Gibbons returns to the dugout as grounds keepers, led by head man Tom Farrell, scurry about picking up beer cans. 

Michael Saunders, David Price and Brett Cecil all hoot and holler at third base ump Carapazza, who ejects someone. Cecil leaves.

Sanchez: “If I get tapped with the loss for a throw back to the pitcher ...”

Chris Colabello: “I went over to the mound one time and all of a sudden I can’t see Donaldson (he had gone into the dugout) so I’m thinking he had been kicked out. Guys were getting hot. We had to stay calm.”

Director of stadium operations Mario Coutinho: “I’ve been there since 1982, from an emotional perspective, I can’t remember anything like that. Fans were reacting emotionally, people didn’t understand the play. Communication could have been better.”

6:26 _ Gibbons comes out to talk to Scott as the scoreboard posts a message stating

“Fans are requested to refrain from throwing objects onto the field and from going onto the field during the playing of the game. Anyone who engages in such activity will be subject to be arrest and removal from the Stadium.” 

Of course all that means is more beer cans.

Gibbons: “A can sailed by me and I wondered if Beeston was aiming at me. Then I saw that the can was full. I knew it wasn’t him.”

Sanchez: “During the delay one ump came over, asked if I wanted to keep throwing, I was upset. I walked away, trying to stay locked in, I didn’t want it to be suddenly be 5-2. I was trying to collect my emotions.”

6:27 _ Scott huddles with his crew and agrees to review the play with the head umpires in New York as Gibbons heads to the dugout again.

Bench coach DeMarlo Hale: “We didn’t know the rule, we were hoping if we could get to New York, someone would have a better angle on Choo’s bat and say that the run would not count.”

Odor scores under rule 6.03 (a) (3). 

Sal Butera, longest serving Jays scout, not only saw the play once but twice: once when catching his throw to third hit the batter in the helmet and managing class-A Osceola in the Houston Astros system.

Texas manager Jeff Banister said he knew the rule because he did it, as a catcher, in the minors. 

6:30 _ Scott tells Gibbons that the call will stand. 

Gibbons protests the game.

Dalton Pompey was stretching in the weight room as the champagne was unpacked in case he was needed to pinch run and remembers thinking “If we lose because of that, this city will riot.”

LaTroy Hawkins: “I went up top to sit by myself and catch a glance of what happened with the throw back. I stayed there the whole inning. There was a weird vibe in the bullpen. The guys were kinda in a daze with what had transpired.”

Roberto Osuna: “We’re in the bullpen saying ‘we’re going to lose this game, this series because of THAT?”

Mike Mordecai, Jays minor league instructor, watched from Bobby Mattick Center in Dunedin instructional league and thought back to his days in the Atlanta Braves system under Hall of Famer Bobby Cox “Infielders have to anticipate throws back from the catcher with a man on third, The Braves always spoke about the magnification of one play. I’m a Russell advocate, he has to come up out of his crouch.”

About now is when Toronto Police began marshalling forces at Queen’s Park.

6:31 _ Carapazza recognizes Saunders, who he had ejected, still in the dugout. Play can’t resume until he leaves. Saunders leaves.

Dioner Navarro, Stroman and Encarnacion come to the top step of the dugout pleading for fans to stop throwing missiles. A woman leaves in tears with her grandson in her arms after a beer can splashes in front of them. Her daughter and her baby depart at the same time. Acclaimed actor Eugene Levy and his brother were in the same row.  The “Toronto the good,” does not look so good. Someone in the press box says “stay classy San Diego.”

6:32 _ After an 18-minute delay Sanchez throws his first pitch to Choo, who fouls it back.

Malloy and his staff are working furiously even though they too may have been furious with the call. It looked as if the chilled champagne tubs had a destination: the Rangers room: “I’m taking the wrappers off the bottles as fast as I can. I am not enjoying it.”

6:33 _ Sanchez fans Choo with a breaking ball.

Pillar “That was impressive for a young guy to stand around 18 minutes and then still be in control.” 

Bottom of the seventh

6:37 _ Martin leads off ... you wonder how often is it that the guy who makes what looks to be the worst error in franchise history comes back to lead off the next inning? Martin hits a 1-2 pitch from Cole Hamels up the middle as shortstop Elvis Andrus roams four steps to his left ... and the ball clanks off his glove. Martin is safe.   

Hawkins: “I remember telling the guys ‘it’s not over’ and the baseball gods are on our side. The first runner I yelled ‘NOW WE GO!’ They started to loosen up and positive energy started.” 

Travis in West Palm: “Here we go, here we go.”

6:40 _ Pillar slaps a 3-2 pitch down the first base line, which Mitch Moreland fields, steps towards second and throws a one-hopper in the dirt to second. Everyone is safe. 

Moreland did not have a throwing error during the regular season. 

Justin Smoak, who had been in the on-deck circle, is called back to the dugout.

Smoak: “It was noisy, but everyone in the dugout was screaming at me -- ‘get back in the dugout!’ -- so Ryan Goins could go up. If it was one out, a man on, I was hitting. I wasn’t going up to bunt.”

Pillar: “I was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Cole Hamels, but I didn’t get the whole hype about being World Series MVP until the third at-bat. He had me 0-2 quickly. It looked like Russell and I were going to trade places.”

Martin: “I cut to the inside of the base path, to cut down (Moreland’s) angle and his vision. It was something I learned playing rundowns as a kid with my father.”

Like the first error it’s looks as if, Munenori Kawasaki, David Price and Stroman are standing on trampolines bouncing and clapping.

Travis: “Here we go, here we go.”

6:42 _ Goins fouls off a first-pitch bunt attempt as third baseman Adrian Beltre charges hard and Andrus rushes to cover third. 

Gibbons and Hale decide if the Rangers are going to go with the wheel play, speed is the Jays best option: Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey pinch runs for Montreal’s Martin.

Season tickets holders help Rogers Centre security identify the beer can tossers and they are evicted. 

6:43 Goins bunts down the third base line, Beltre fields, throws to Andrus, the ball beats Pompey and ... Andrus drops the knee-high throw. None out, bases loaded. Pompey helps force the issue.

St. Catharines’ Randy Robles of the Elias Sports Bureau in New York does the research: it is the first time a post-season inning has begun: error, error and error.  

Andrus had two errors in the inning. He had four in the final 63 regular-season games.

Banister told the Dallas Morning News this spring: “That wasn’t an defining moment for Elvis. It was an outcome. He had a bad game. Players have bad games. We don’t get to choose when we have bad games. They happen. We can all pile onto one game, but I think Elvis is a pretty resilient player.”

Sandy Alomar, Hall of Fame father of Robbie Alomar: “Houston lost to K.C. because it didn’t catch the ball, same with Texas.”

6:45 _ Revere slaps an 0-1 pitch to Moreland, who fields crossing the foul line, throws across his body to Gimenez. As the Rangers catcher makes the force, Pompey slides in taking out the catcher’s legs and down goes Gimenez. Banister argues Pompey’s slide prevents Gimenez from making a return throw to first, he wants a double play called. 

6:46 _ Scott puts on the head set again asking the umps in New York to look at the replay.

6:47 _ The plays stands, Bannister argues with Scott and then signals Hamels is done after 7 1/3 innings calling for ex-Jay Sam Dyson.

Toronto’s Hyung Cho reached triple-A Tacoma with the Seattle Mariners, coaches with the Toronto Mets and was in the front row beside the Texas dugout, almost next to manager Bannister. Cho’s good friend from Korea, Choo was in right.

“Any time anything good happened for the Jays, I cheered, I have to cheer for my team, my city,” Cho said. “But at the end of the inning if I thought I (Choo) was looking I tried to look down, hang my head.”

6:52 _ Donaldson pops up a 2-0 pitch but not high enough to be ruled an infield fly. Odor back peddles and doesn’t get there as Pillar scores, tying the game 3-3. Revere takes his eye of the ball, returns to first and is thrown out at second on the force. 

Goins was leading off second when the ball went up: “I thought the ball was going to be caught, I was close to the bag.”

AL scout: “Andrus had a bad error fielding, another bad error covering third and Moreland spiked a ball in the dirt, but the worst defensive play of the inning was Odor back-peddling rather than turning on Donaldson’s easy pop, it should have been an easy out ... two out bases loaded? Then who knows.”  

Gimenez: “It was so loud at one point I was standing there and my jersey was shaking. Playing in Toronto, the roof was closed, with 50,000 screaming hockey fans there. The was a great and cool.” 

6:54.25.20 _ Bautista hits a no doubter on 1-1, 97 mph inside pitch from Dyson to deep left centre. The ball sails into the noisy cauldron, Bautista admires the drive, his left arm drops to his side limply holding the bat, he puffs out his cheeks the way Vernon Wells used to look like a blow fish when he connected and them tosses his bat away like an unwanted newspaper from the front porch. Bautista’s weapon was a 34-inch, 32-ounce Marucci bat. 

Dyson had not allowed a homer by a right-handed hitter in 77 previous at-bats, giving up only one other after joining the Rangers on July 31: San Francisco’s Hunter Pence.

Pompey: “I was beside Josh Thole when Jose came up, (Thole) said ‘this place is coming down if he hits one.”

Sanchez on Bautista’s bat flip: “How come no one talks about Yoenis Cespedes? He hit a three-run homer for the Mets against the Dodgers at Citi Field.” Sanchez smoothly punches into his phone and shows a vid of the Cespedes homer ... “look at that, the bat travels 30 feet.” 

Martin, spotted looking to the heavens and rubbing his hands together in thanks: “My colleagues picked me up, I don’t blame Dyson for being unhappy. It was instinctual on Jose’s part. It was an epic home run. It was an epic bat flip.”

Pitching coach Pete Walker asks sheepishly whether anyone spotted him in the replay: “I was like a player. I was out on the turf -- the turf -- thrusting my right arm in the air.”

Mordecai says there was “a lot of whooping and hollering” at the complex.

R.A. Dickey, Encarnacion, Navaro, Stroman and Martin are all out of the dugout onto the carpet jumping and celebrating like it was the city high school championship. 

Dickey quickly returned to his spot in the dugout -- at the far end near the stairs -- where he’d been for the whole inning and with tongue in cheek says “I was in the same spot, I got up to cheer a few times, but went back ... you know the whole inning was because of me, where I sat -- if I hadn’t been in that same spot we wouldn’t have won.”

Mike Shaw, travelling secretary, recalls passing Bautista stretching in the weight room 15 minutes before first pitch Shaw: “Jose, you nervous?” Bautista: “Don’t worry, we got this one.”

Hall of Fame candidate Tim Raines, an outfield instructor, said he was screaming when the ball was hit, adding “I get goose bumps talking about it.”

Malloy is still taking champagne wrappers off the bottles. They have a new destination. Now his mood is euphoric.

Guelph lefty Scott Diamond saw the homer from San Pedro de Macorís playing winter ball. 

6:56 _ Encarnacion takes off his helmet and signals to fans to quit throwing things onto the field, much like he had done in the top half of the inning after the Martin error. Dyson walks into the plate thinking Encarnacion is encouraging fans to cheer. Words are exchanged. Benches and bullpens empty as Mark Buehrle, not on the post-season roster, is the first to arrive. That’s an automatic ejection but he was not kicked out.  

Dyson: “I told Edwin, this can’t happen. It needs to stop. He was telling me he hit a home run, or whatever. After that I didn’t pay attention.”   

6:58 _ Some of the 100 policemen inside the stadium arrive in the Rangers bullpen and near the Rangers dugout for protection as 49,742 -- save for Rangers wives and executives -- sing “Jose, Jose, Jose.” Fans near the Rangers dugout are ejected. 

7:02 _ Encarnacion tops a roller on an 0-2 pitch to Beltre at third and reaches on the weak grounder.

7:03 _ Colabello lines the first pitch, a 98 mph sinker, to right. 

In the 200 Level an usher we met at the homer opener was dressed in blue, his goatee dyed blue and ditto the back of his pony tail. His name tag even read Jay ... his real name .... Jay Gangursky, who predicted at the home opener he would wear blue in his beard until November. He was closer than anyone else the past 22 years.

7:06 _ Tulowitzki pops up a 3-1 pitch into foul ground for the third out. Standing in the batter’s box taking off his gloves he is surprised when Dyson taps his rear with his right hand. 

Benches and bullpens empty again.

Dyson: “I didn’t say a word, just tapped him, on the butt. That was it, a nice gesture on my part, that’s what I thought. He took it another way. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but it wasn’t anything to disgrace him, or upset him.”

Tulowitzki: “There was definitely something said. It’s over, we won. There shouldn’t be any contact made. He gave up the home run, then walks over and touches someone, I don’t think that’s the right time.”

Sanchez said: “Guys said ‘let’s go out,’ after the clubhouse celebration. I said I was going home to watch TV and go to bed.”

7:08 _ Order is restored.

FOX Sports goes to commercial. 

The final totals for the inning: 52 minutes, 12 batters (four Rangers) four hits (one by the Rangers), four errors (one by the Jays), five runs (one by the Rangers), two umpire’s replays, the benches and bullpens emptying twice, one arrest and a number of evictions from the stadium.

* * *

“I believe in the Baseball Gods,” said  Encarnacion, sounding a little like Kevin Costner from Bull Durham. “I believe that they watched the top of the seventh.

“They watched and they thought that was not the way for a team’s season to end,”