Bautista walks fine line in 10-pitch at-bat
Battle with Volquez ends with borderline call
TORONTO -- Jose Bautista will be remembered long after this October for his famous bat flip, one frozen in time through iconic still images and still running on loop on social-media video clips. On Wednesday, the Blue Jays slugger stopped his swing and set down his bat, and it proved nearly as critical to his team's postseason hopes.
In the sixth inning of a 7-1 victory over the Royals in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Bautista drew a crucial, and somewhat controversial, walk to help set up a four-run outburst that helped keep Toronto breathing in the best-of-seven set. It was a classic battle with Kansas City's Edinson Volquez that was perfect for the postseason stage.
"He challenged me and went after me hard," Bautista said. "I tip my hat to him for not backing down."
Bautista and Volquez engaged in a 10-pitch confrontation that included nine hard fastballs, ranging from 96-98 mph, which popped into the glove of catcher Salvador Perez or glanced off the slugger's bat. Bautista fouled off five pitches, watched four and halted his powerful swing at the last possible moment on the final, game-changing offering.
The last pitch was an 83-mph curveball that could have gone either way, but was deemed a ball by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna, loading the bases for Toronto.
The crowd roared in approval, Royals manager Ned Yost barked for an appeal and Volquez lost the handle on what developed into a damaging inning. The pitcher followed with a run-scoring walk to Edwin Encarnacion and later watched from the side as reliever Kelvin Herrera gave up a first-pitch, three-run double to Troy Tulowitzki to help the Blue Jays to a 5-0 lead.
"I thought some of those pitches were close," Yost said. "We didn't get them."
Now, this ALCS heads back to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where Toronto lost the first two contests, but will attempt to win the final pair to stop the Royals from reaching a second straight World Series. Game 6 is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET (game time at 8 p.m. ET) on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet.
One of the reasons Toronto was able to reach the ALCS came in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, when Bautista crushed a mammoth home run, tossed his bat high in the air and pushed the Blue Jays past the Rangers to reach the next round. Bautista had chances to send one of Volquez's pitches into the sea of blue-clad fans on Wednesday, too.
Bautista's patience, however, paid off.
"You can argue that I got the benefit of a borderline call," Bautista said. "The bottom line is I ended up on first and Tulo came through."
Working with a 1-0 lead, Volquez opened the sixth inning with a walk to Toronto leadoff man Ben Revere. Then, Kansas City's starter lost his footing on the mound, sending an errant pitch inside and off the left elbow of Josh Donaldson to put two runners aboard with no outs. Tasked with taking on Bautista, Volquez began with a 96-mph sinker that started outside, but ran over the corner for strike one.
Volquez stuck with his fastball for the next eight pitches. He stayed away, away, away, and Bautista watched as the offerings missed the zone -- first low and then high. Volquez's velocity was higher than it was throughout the regular season, reducing the amount of downward action on his sinker.
"His fastball is playing with a little rise, rather than sink," Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello said. "When he's lower 90s, I think he has a tendency to sink a little bit more. Right now, it's more of a lateral movement, or an upshoot."
So, when Volquez began attacking the middle of the strike zone with belt-high heaters, Bautista had a series of five consecutive foul balls. One rattled off Perez and Iassogna, while four others were lifted up and back into the seats.
"His fastball wasn't running that much," Bautista said. "I think he was trying to throw a little harder and it was straighter. I kept hitting the bottom of the ball. I was expecting to see more sink."
Finally, following the ninth pitch, Volquez motioned for Perez to come to the mound. They talked things over briefly as the crowd sent a chorus of boos down from the stands, as it did when shortstop Alcides Escobar ran over for a chat after the eighth pitch. Volquez and Perez agreed on the curveball, hoping to catch Bautista by surprise.
The ball snapped downward, Bautista checked his swing and Iassogna called it a ball.
"I thought it was a strike," Volquez said. "It was a good pitch -- on the corner."
Yost agreed, but he also wanted Iassogna to appeal to first-base umpire Jeff Nelson to see if Bautista's bat drifted too far.
The appeal never happened.
"I couldn't get anybody's attention because the crowd was so loud," Yost said. "If those things linger, you're never going to get the call. ... I thought the pitch to Bautista was definitely a strike. And I thought we had a chance on him swinging."
Bautista was happy to let Tulowitzki play hero this time.
"Tulo didn't let a first-pitch fastball go by. He attacked it," Bautista said. "In a 1-0 game, an elimination game, that's obviously, by far, the hit of the game."