Bautista keeps spotlight off Martin's ugly ALDS

By: Nick Ashbourne

Canadian Baseball Network

What happened happened and couldn’t have happened any other way
— -Morpheus, The Matrix Reloaded

How you feel about the quotation above says a great deal about both what generation you belong to and how fatalistic you are. Its impact is lessened slightly by the fact it is attributed to a fictional character from a mediocre film infamous for spouting vague proverbs; but it's the content of the message that counts.

For whatever reason it was the first thing that sprang to mind watching the Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Texas Rangers in a game that can be called insane without a whiff of hyperbole on Wednesday. The madness began when Toronto appeared to allow a decisive run in the top of the seventh when an innocent toss by Russell Martin back to Aaron Sanchez careened off Shin-soo Choo's bat and allowed Rougned Odor to score. 

It ended, effectively though not literally, with a swing, a thunderous crack and a drive.


Somehow what Jose Bautista did with his bat afterwards was much louder.


For Blue Jays fans it all felt so right. The "baseball gods" were mentioned frequently following the game by the team and its supporters alike. The prevailing wisdom was that the Blue Jays had suffered an injustice at the hands of these mysterious deities and they were given a deserved chance at redemption in the form of three consecutive errors that made Bautista's instantly-iconic hit possible.

That's one way to interpret what happened. Morpheus, for one, would definitely see it that way. It's poetic and it's uplifting. It appeals to our longing for life to be fair.

Unfortunately, I just don't have it in me to see baseball through this lens. I recognize the significance of Bautista's home run, how impressive it was and the raw emotion released by not just one man but 49,000 the moment it left the bat. It's hard not to see those things. 

However, I find my mind wandering to what might have transpired instead. At a time when Bautista is all anyone wants to talk about I can't stop thinking about the Blue Jays' starting catcher.

If a team wins a playoff series there is usually a hero, if they lose there is a goat. It shouldn't be that simple, but it often is because it makes writers' jobs easier and its easily digestible for fans.

Right now Bautista is very clearly a hero for Blue Jays fans, although he's most certainly a villain to others. But what if Toronto had lost? Winner have no needs of goats, but the Blue Jays were almost in the livestock market. If the Rangers had made just one of three routine plays in the seventh the the home team likely would have lost.

If Texas hadn't been downed by its own faulty leatherwork, there is a good chance that Martin goes down as a goat, albeit an unlucky one. The potentially decisive Choo play stands out, but there's more to the story.

Firstly, he had a poor series at the plate. The 32-year-old hit  .200/.333/.333 with an On-Base Percentage buoyed by two hit-by-pitches. He also grounded into a double play and made one of the worst outs of Game 2, popping up with Dalton Pompey on first and no outs in extra innings when a run would have ended the game.

Additionally in that game he made a crucial error in the first inning that cost his team a run. If he hadn't thrown the ball into left field it's possible the Blue Jays might have been spared five innings of free baseball and a loss.

In the only post-season series played by the Blue Jays in decades, arguably their most battle-tested veteran had an ugly five games that concluded with a potential series-deciding freak accident.

Perhaps this wouldn't have been enough to turn fans against Martin had the Blue Jays lost. He has been excellent all season. Blockbuster free agents often fall flat, especially in their first year with new teams, and Martin has been worth every penny and more so far. The fact he's Canadian also gives him some leeway.

Maybe Blue Jays' supporters would have been level-headed and rational enough to avoid singling out a goat if their team lost. The beer cans that paraded down from all levels of Rogers Centre on Wednesday makes that seem unlikely. 

Maybe the ire of the Blue Jays' faithful would have been directed at an umpiring crew that was correctly interpreting a strange rule if Bautista, and Elvis Andrus, had never come to the rescue.

It's impossible to say now how the city would have reacted. As each day after the unbelievable ALDS finale goes by memories will begin to blur. It's hard enough to remember what actually happened, let alone hypothetical scenarios. Alternate outcomes are sure to fade into the ether, which is why it's interesting to grasp at them now before they slide away.

Martin was dangerously close to going down as a playoff bust this year only to be saved by events beyond his control. Whether he was spared by the "baseball gods", the power of Bautista's wrath or pure unadulterated luck doesn't matter.

What matters is what he does next.