"I don't get caught up in [the revenge]," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I don't get to choose who we play. They have fought hard to get to where they are. They'll be a hot club, and they'll be ready to play."
Jose Bautista's bat flip last October, Sam Dyson's confrontation of Edwin Encarnacion at home plate, Texas' rebuttal this year and Rougned Odor's right hook that caught Bautista square on the jaw. This goes deeper than just a game, but the Blue Jays insist their heads will be in the right place when the series opens Thursday (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS/Sportsnet) at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
"We just have to win, obviously there's bad blood there," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "The last time we were there, it ended the way it ended, but we have to move on from that. We have to take care of business, it's about getting W's."
The Blue Jays entered this season expecting some type of retribution because of what happened last fall against the Rangers. Bautista was responsible for sending Texas packing with his three-run homer off Dyson during the seventh inning in Game 5 of the ALDS, and a bat flip seemed to upset the entire Lone Star State.
"For sure, playing those guys again and beating them would be sweet," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, who committed two crucial errors in Game 5 of last year's ALDS. "But in the end, we're looking at the big picture. It's not about beating one guy in one series. It's about getting to the World Series and winning it all."
Toronto likely would have taken exception to any kind of retaliation, but it was how the Rangers tried to even the score that upset the Blue Jays the most. Game after game passed early in the season without any payback. By the time these teams met for the final time of the regular season, Toronto's players thought the ill will was water under the bridge. They were wrong.
Texas right-hander Matt Bush was on the mound in the eighth inning on May 15 for what turned out to be Bautista's final at-bat of the series. Bush wasted no time hitting the star slugger on his backside with an upper-90s fastball. Bautista glared toward the mound, but cooler heads initially prevailed as he slowly walked to first base.
The scene turned ugly moments later when a grounder was hit to Andrus. Bautista slid hard, and late, into Odor at second base. When Bautista turned to confront Odor, he was greeted with a two-handed shove and a right hook.
"We just have to keep our emotions in check and just go down there and win some ballgames and play good baseball," Bautista said of the upcoming series. "That's what we're capable of doing, and that's what we tried to do last year; that's what we did this year, except some things transpired that made us get away from that. Hopefully that doesn't happen again."
"I don't like it, I don't like the questions," Odor told the Dallas Morning News when asked how he felt about Bautista's name being brought up to him. "It puts me in a bad spot, but it's part of the game, and I understand it."
The antics aside, this should be an entertaining series. The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the Majors this year, and they ended up running away with the AL West with a nine-game advantage over second-place Seattle.
The year was a lot tougher for Toronto. The Blue Jays began September with a two-game lead in the AL East, only to see an 11-16 record over that month nearly derail their season. Instead, they won a pair of tough games in Boston to clinch a postseason spot, and now they head to Arlington riding the emotion of Encarnacion's walk-off three-run homer vs. Baltimore in the AL Wild Card Game.
There is not a lot separating these two teams. Texas outscored Toronto overall this season, 765-759, but the Blue Jays won the season series, 4-3, and also fared much better from the mound, with a staff ERA of 3.78 vs. 4.37.