By Bob Elliott
Jose Bautista’s vision of his career was all about an at-bat like this.
He has been called a prima donna for protesting umpire’s strike calls.
He was accused of cheating when he went from Rule V draftee, to back up to every day player with a leg kick (“don’t be late, even when you think you are early you are late,” Cito Gaston and Vernon Wells both told him).
He has been a model for ESPN The Magazine Body issue and set a record for vote totals in all-star balloting.
He was the two time major league home run champ and yet his body of work for a six-team all-star was incomplete.
He had never played a post-season game. Now, a great player on a great team, Bautista stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh -- game tied, two men aboard facing a 1-1 pitch from Texas Rangers reliever Sam Dyson on Wednesday.
It was his moment.
Mighty Jose swung delivering a three-run, line-drive, no doubter to left field.
He took his right hand off the bat, looked at the ball, heard the sound and used his left hand to toss the bat away toward the first base dugout. His weapon had served its purpose, now he was tossing it away like a waitress getting rid of some change a patron had left as insulting tip.
And eventually it was over, a 6-4 Blue Jays win which means that they open the best-of-seven American League Championship Series Friday night.
In a wet and wild, champagne-soaked clubhouse and dugout.
Who were they happiest for?
“The guy who took the big swing,” said Chris Colabello, who spent seven years playing independent ball in the Can Am League before signing with the Minnesota Twins. “Everything that Jose has gone through ... people want to talk about my story. How ‘bout his? There was a lot of emotion in that game, in that swing. I have no idea what I would have done had it been me.”
And the sold-out crowd, which spent most of the season chanting MVP, MVP for Josh Donaldson or Tulo for Troy Tulowitzki after his July 28 arrival, began the familiar “Jose, Jose, Jose,” sing along.
Usually players reach the dugout to a gauntlet of high-fives. Bautista received nothing but hugs from Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and David Price as if he’d won a lottery and his long-long relatives had dropped over for a visit.
“I got to see over 40 of those this season, I knew off the bat it was gone,” said Donaldson, who had a fine day in the field and was on first after knocking in the tying run, when Bautista went deep.
“The bat flip? This is a celebration, he’s allowed to do whatever he wants in my book,” Donaldson said.
The emotions of the Rogers Centre had never seen an inning like this ... fans so upset they were tossing beer and water bottles after the Rangers scored the go-ahead run in the top half. And then seven batters later in the bottom half, the Jays were up by three.
“When he hit it I almost cried,” said Aaron Sanchez, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless, “I almost had tears.”
And up on the 300 level.
“Our whole box went nuts, the cameras didn’t get us -- good, it would have looked like a zoo,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
LaTroy Hawkins is hanging it up at the end of the season. He’s been through nine champagne celebrations.
“I happiest for the guys who have been here the longest and had never won, guys like Jose, Edwin Encarnacion and Alex,” said Hawkins.
Asked about Bautista, Dickey replied: “he deserves it. He has been here all along. He’s been here through the good times and the bad teams.”
Bautista is an intelligent, athletic player, who runs the bases well, throws above average and his power grades out as a plus power.
What was going on when he hit his homer, he was asked in the interview room.
“I can’t really remember what was going through my mind,” Bautista told reporters. “After I made contact, you know, I didn’t plan anything that I did, so I still don’t even know how I did it.
“I enjoyed the moment, rounded the bases and got to the dugout. After all the guys stopped punching me and hitting me is when I kind of started realizing what happened. I knew I did something great for the team at the moment of impact because I knew I hit that ball pretty good, and I gave us the lead in a crucial moment so I was happy to do that.”
Bautista has played 1,407 games in the majors and now five in post season.
He has now hit 286 homers, plus two in post season.
“It was fun,” Bautista said. “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. It was two teams battling, two great teams. They did a great job pitching in the first two games and we were able to score runs the last two games. It was unbelievable competition.
“Everybody was trying to win for their team, you see it on a slide at second, a reaction after a strikeout, a reaction after a base hit and that’s what baseball’s all about,” Bautista said. “Play with your heart, play with emotion and try to win.”
Bautista has always played with his heart on his sleeve or his batting glove. Knocked down by Baltimore Orioles Darren O’Day or Jason Garcia, he homered in the same at-bat.
“I like watching players play that way because I know they’re giving it their all. I enjoyed the whole series.”
PICK EM: We talked to five advance scouts who covered both the Rangers and the Jays down the stretch and asked for a winner Wednesday morning. Three picked the Rangers, two picked the Jays.
Said one AL advance scout: “I like Texas because of the fact they are pitching Hamels. Good pitching beats good hitting.”
Said an AL scout: “I like the Jays because Bautista rakes.”
Cole Hamels and Marcus Stoman basically battled to a draw.
SLICE AND DICE: Former Jays reliever Dyson was in the midst of the two bench clearing incidents.
It reminded me of a winter ball game I saw in Santo Domingo once. A fan in front of me bought a bottle of rum, paid the vendor, became upset at an umpire’s call and fired the full bottle instead of the empty onto the field.
There were arguments, replays, huddles by Dale Scott’s umpiring crew -- which got the call right on Russell Martin’s throw by the way.
When the fans were celebrating and throwing more stuff Encarnacion stood to the left of home plate like an NFL quarterback trying to quiet the crowd. Dyson walked in from the mound.
“I told him that Jose needs to calm that down, respect the game,” Dyson said. “It needs to stop. He’s a huge role model for the younger generation and he’s doing stuff kids do in whiffle ball and backyard ball. It shouldn’t be done. It’s unacceptable, regardless of what level you’re If you watch his replays throughout the year, I think you’ll understand.”
After retiring Troy Tulowitzki on a foul pop for the third out, Dyson headed to the plate and tapped the Jays shortstop on the rear.
“I didn’t say a word on him,” Dyson said. “I tapped him on the butt. He told me not to touch him, and things escalated. It was just 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.”
SEVENTH FRAME: Have there ever been an inning with a display of emotions like the seventh at the Rogers Centre?
Russell Martin caught Aaron Sanchez’ pitch and flipped it back to the pitcher as he does 150 times a game or so. Except, the ball hit the bat of Shin Soo-Choo and headed towards third.
The lead run came home from third.
The Jays argued. Dale Scott first called dead ball, then got it right and the Rougned Odor was allowed to score on the play. Fans booed and tossed water bottles and beer.
If anyone should have been frazzled seeing the lead evaporate it should have been the Jays.
Instead Martin led off and reached on a clank by shortstop Elvis Andrus.
Kevin Pillar bounced to Mitch Moreland at first, who bounced his throw to second. Two on, no one out.
Ryan Goins bunted to third baseman Adrian Belte, who fired to Andrus covering third. With pinch runner Dalton Pompey barrelling in Andrus dropped the ball.
The Rangers had clanked for the cycle to load the bases.
Then, after an out at the plate, Donaldson knocked in a run and up came Bautista.