I believe with my whole heart that the seventh inning of last year’s ALDS Game 5—the non-interference throw back to the pitcher, the baby-soaking beer rain, Elvis Andrus’s meltdown, and ohmygod that bat flip—is the most entertaining inning of baseball ever played. That seven months later it is still providing us with spectacle certainly isn’t doing anything to change my mind.
This one’s clearly been stewing for a while, but it simply couldn’t wait any longer. This was Jose Bautista’s last at-bat of the last meeting between the Rangers and Blue Jays this season. If revenge had to be taken (and that’s a debate for later), it had to be in an unusual spot: in the eighth inning of a one-run game, with a pitcher on the mound who wasn’t even on this team last year.
Toronto manager John Gibbons took issue with the Rangers waiting this long to hit Bautista:
“To me, it was gutless. The other 29 teams, they come at you right away, but to wait until the end, it just sort of tells you something.”
“It shows, at least the apparent lack of leadership that they have over there when it comes to playing baseball the right way,” Bautista said. “Baseball players are supposed to be taken care of with 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 wanted to send a message. Again, it shows a little bit more of their colors.”
But Matt Bush, the former first overall pick who made his MLB debut on Friday after spending years in prison for multiple DUI arrests, did indeed plunk Bautista to put the leadoff man on in a close game:
Afterward Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Bush was not throwing at Bautista with purpose. He’s also got a bridge to sell you.
Home plate ump Dan Iassogna issued a warning to both teams, which was correct and which was really the extent of what the umpires could do at that point. But two batters later, Bautista slid in hard on Rougned Odor as the Rangers’ second baseman tried to turn a double play. The two were up and fighting as the ball was still bouncing around.
(Bautista’s slide was judged to be runner interference under new rules installed this year, and the double play was awarded.)
Elvis Andrus called the ensuing brawl “the worst one I’ve ever been a part of,” and as far as basebrawls go, it was a good one. Odor decked Bautista, who was restrained and muscled away from the action by Adrian Beltre. Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar went hard after Odor, who swung wildly. Just when things started to calm down, Gibbons, who had been ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes, apparently told Banister what he thought of the beanball, and the two started shouting at each other.
Bautista, Donaldson, bench coach DeMarlo Hale, first-base coach Tim Leiper (in the third inning), and reliever Jesse Chavez (for a retaliatory plunking in the bottom of the eighth) were all ejected. Odor and bench coach Steve Buechele were tossed for Texas.
But the brawl will be remembered for one image: that punch.
Baseball has the best fights, because unlike in football, punches aren’t muffled by equipment; unlike in hockey, punches are thrown in genuine anger; and unlike in basketball, punches are actually thrown. And Odor’s was an all-timer—a truly quality right hook.
And Bautista took it like a champ. After the game, he insinuated that Odor was only able to connect because it was a sucker punch, and it wasn’t that hard a swing anyway.
“I was pretty surprised,” Bautista said. “I mean, obviously, that’s the only reason that he got me, and he got me pretty good, so I have to give him that. It takes a little bit bigger man to knock me down.”
Aesthetically, it’s a hell of an image: the sunglasses exiting stage right, Bautista’s helmet and Odor’s chain counter-rotating, Beltre sprinting toward the action, that fan in the bleachers leaping to his feet.
Disciplinarily, Odor’s going to miss some time. The longest suspension for a brawl in recent memory was the eight-gamer handed to Carlos Quentin for charging the mound in a 2013 game, but that was probably only so long because he broke Zack Greinke’s collarbone. A better comparison might be the five-game suspension for Martin Maldonado, who left the bench to throw a sucker punch at an unsuspecting Travis Snider, blackening his eye, in a 2014 Brewers-Pirates brawl.
I’m glad no one was seriously hurt. I’m also really glad this brawl happened, because c’mon. I’m sad these two teams aren’t scheduled to meet again in the regular season. I’m hopeful they’ll meet in the playoffs, and someone will flip a bat.