Blue Jays, Rangers put up their dukes

May 16th, 2016

This was a fracas the Texas Rangers seemingly wanted, one they apparently had to have. That it might have been as much about flushing demons as getting revenge is irrelevant. So was waiting seven months and two days for the right moment.

These retaliations can be tricky things. In the end, they're usually not all that satisfying.

Did Rangers reliever Matt Bush hitting Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista with a 96-mph fastball during Texas' 7-6 win over Toronto Sunday afternoon remove any of the sting from that elimination game the Rangers lost in Toronto last fall?

Of course not. Don't be silly.

Did the melee that eventually followed make any sense? Did it settle a single thing? Probably not, but it was one many have been expecting ever since Blue Jays-Rangers became one of baseball's most unexpected -- and intense -- rivalries last fall.

Bautista knew what the Rangers had done the moment the fastball got him in the top of the eighth inning. Give them credit for patience. This was the seventh and final time the Rangers and Blue Jays will play in 2016, at least in the regular season. This was almost certainly Bautista's final at-bat. The Rangers had just rallied for four runs to take a 7-6 lead.

"To me, it was gutless," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We've played seven games. The other 29 teams out there, if they have an issue with you, they come at you right away. To wait until the end, that just kind of tells me a little something."

That the Rangers had a one-run lead seemed less important than getting even. This was a moment for which they'd waited 215 days.

"It was very blatant," Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "[Bush] throws straight four-seamers. You go look at the replay, he throws it right at him."

Plate umpire Dan Iassogna agreed because he issued a warning, meaning the next incident results in an automatic ejection. That happened in the bottom of the eighth, when Toronto reliever Jesse Chavez was ejected for hitting Prince Fielder.

After getting hit, Bautista got his revenge, sort of.

On an infield grounder, he slid hard into Rougned Odor at second base. Odor hopped up and shoved Bautista. When they got tangled up, Odor delivered a stunning, staggering right hook to Bautista's left jaw.

At that point, all heck broke loose. Coaches and players shoved one another all over the diamond. Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre bear-hugged Bautista and got him away from the scrum. Someone did the same with Odor.

"I had a hard slide at second base. I could have injured [Odor, but] I chose not to," Bautista said. "I tried to send a message that I didn't appreciate getting hit [by the pitch]."

Rangers manager Jeff Banister was in the middle of it and exchanged hot words with Gibbons, who returned to the field after being ejected in the third inning.

"These are two ballclubs that obviously are playing hard to win baseball games and are emotional," said Banister. "But as far as what happened inside the scrum out on the field, there were a lot of things going on. We could sit here for the next hour and talk about that, but I don't have that time. I've got a bird to catch."

The umpires attempted to sort it all out, and when all was said and done, the list of ejections from the game was long and included Bautista, Donaldson, Chavez, Gibbons, bench coach DeMarlo Hale and first-base coach Tim Leiper. On the Texas side, Odor and bench coach Steve Buechele were also tossed. It may take Major League Baseball a day or two to sort through the video and see what fines and punishment are to be dished out.

But in terms of baseball results, the Rangers were the beneficiaries of Bautista's slide, as the umpires said his slide violated the new rules for breaking up double plays, and both Bautista and Justin Smoak -- who hit the grounder and was seemingly safe at first after a wide throw from Odor -- were ruled out in what became an inning-ending double play. This wasn't the first time this season that Bautista was involved with a controversial violation of rule 6.01(j), but there was no obvious history of bad blood when the Rays were awarded a game-ending double play on April 5 after Bautista reached out to grab Logan Forsythe's leg.

Sunday's incident, on the other hand, can be traced back to Oct. 14, 2015, in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. The Rangers had led the series 2-0, then found themselves in a deciding Game 5. They'd taken a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.

And then they blinked. Badly.

Bautista's three-run home run off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson was the finishing touch on an inning in which Texas made three errors.

Later, though, what seemed to infuriate the Rangers was that Bautista had flung his bat away as the ball sailed out of the park.

This was a signature moment for the Blue Jays, and the fury of the bat flip represented 22 years out of the playoffs. In the final weeks of the 2015 season, the Blue Jays had captivated a city and a country just like the old days.

To the Rangers, it was not a celebration, but a case of inexcusable taunting.

"That's unacceptable, regardless of what level you're on," Dyson said that day.

In the visiting clubhouse Sunday afternoon, the Blue Jays held nothing back. When Bautista was asked about his teammates coming to his defense on the field, he blasted the Rangers.

"Obviously, everybody felt like they crossed the line," he said. "It shows at least the apparent lack of leadership they have over there when it comes to playing baseball the right way. I thought it was pretty cowardly of them to wait until my last at-bat to do that. It shows a little bit more of their colors."

Down the hallway, the Rangers were more subdued. Bush would not address the pitch, and Odor wasn't made available to the media. Those who spoke chose their words carefully.

"It's the game, you never know what the other team's going to do," Beltre said. "They're entitled to do whatever they want, obviously. Nothing surprises me."