ARLINGTON -- Rougned Odor knows he'll be the center of considerable attention when he and the Rangers face the Blue Jays in Thursday's Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but the man who landed the punch on José Bautista's chin earlier this year insists he's not focused on
ARLINGTON -- Rougned Odor knows he'll be the center of considerable attention when he and the Rangers face the Blue Jays in Thursday's Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but the man who landed the punch on José Bautista's chin earlier this year insists he's not focused on any of the outside hoopla.
"It's in the past already," Odor insisted over and over as he spoke to a throng of media members at his locker in the Rangers clubhouse at Globe Life Park before Wednesday's workout. "I don't worry about that. I just worry about today and tomorrow. We're just trying to play how we play and try to win this series."
Reporters weren't the only ones encircling Odor in anticipation of Thursday's 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT game on TBS, along with Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada. His teammates, in a more figurative fashion, were also surrounding the 22-year-old second baseman.
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"I don't think it's only Rougie," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "I think it's the whole team. He started everything last time, but it was from a year ago that we all as a team had that feeling. I don't think it's only going to be him. We're a team and we're going to have his back. We're going to be right next to him and we'll pull together."
Odor's punch culminated from the tension between these two teams dating back to Bautista's bat flip in Game 5 of last year's ALDS. Rangers reliever Matt Bush hit Bautista with a pitch in the eighth inning of their seventh and final regular-season meeting this year -- a 7-6 Texas win on May 15 -- and when Bautista slid in hard on Odor at second base, things boiled over.
The Blue Jays certainly haven't forgotten what happened the last time they set foot in Globe Life Park, and center fielder Kevin Pillar said it's easier to get motivated "when you truly don't like the guys on the other team."
From Pillar's vantage point, it all just makes the rivalry more interesting.
"It's something that is going to factor into this series," said Pillar. "I think we're both out here to try to win some games, but there's no secret. The two teams don't like each other. They don't like what we did to them last year. We don't like the way they responded to not liking what we did last year. Things happened last time we were here.
"I don't expect anything to happen," Pillar added. "We're out here to win baseball games. We're trying to move onto the next round. Teams this good can't afford to give each other baserunners, so I don't expect anything to be intentional. That doesn't mean we'll shy away from throwing on the inner half. I don't expect them to shy away from throwing on the inner half. But it is what it is, it's a thing of the past. We'll just use it as motivation and they'll use it as motivation as well."
Bautista says the focus needs to be on ball and not brawl with so much on the line.
"We just have to keep our emotions in check and win some ballgames and play good baseball," Bautista said. "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."
The Rangers would like to turn the page on the previous brouhahas as well. Manager Jeff Banister noted that the teams have "played some great baseball against each other" over the past two years.
Veteran third baseman Adrián Beltré put it simply: "This is the playoffs. We don't have our minds on fighting guys three months ago."
But, of course, the questions will persist and emotions will no doubt rise again as this year's series plays out for the simple fact that both teams are fighting for postseason survival.
Andrus, who committed two errors in the wild seventh inning in last year's Game 5, acknowledged that keeping emotions under wraps could be a challenge.
"It's easy to say that right now, but during the game anything can happen," he said. "I think it's going to bring a lot more excitement to the games. There's probably going to be a lot of rules before every game, but it's baseball, man. That's the beauty of this. We're ready to go. We're not going to stop playing the way we play."
Which is the bottom line that Odor kept reciting as he talked about his role in the upcoming series. No, he hasn't communicated with Bautista since their fight in May. Yes, he watched Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game between the Blue Jays and Orioles, but no, he wasn't rooting for one team or the other. And no, he doesn't believe his confrontation or any of the followup will be a distraction.
"I just try to help my team and do my best," Odor said. "I'm going to play the way I play. I give my 100 percent on the field. My teammates are great, we are like a family and that's how we're going to play."
Greg Johns has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.