The Texas Rangers waited six games and eight innings but they finally sent a message to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista.
By the end of the Rangers’ wild 7-6 comeback win Sunday afternoon at Globe Life Park, a whole mess of messages were sent flying from both teams. Two bench-clearing skirmishes, the first of which included legitimate punches and four ejections, put a final intense stamp on the seven-game series between the teams.
The Rangers took two of three in Arlington after losing three of four two weeks ago in Toronto. If they meet again in 2016, it’ll be in the playoffs.
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“I take offense to anybody that ever thinks that this is a game that shouldn’t be played hard, that shouldn’t be played with emotion and intensity,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
“Sometimes it gets to a level where grown men are playing the game of baseball and look, we’ve got a rivalry every single night we go out and play. We try to play hard, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
I’m sure the emotions and the anxieties were running high. To be able to collect himself in that inning to make some pitches, to get us out of that situation, and give our guys an opportunity, a lift, a shot in the arm.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister on Matt Bush
After the Rangers rallied with four runs in the seventh to turn a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 lead behind Ian Desmond’s two-out, three-run homer, Matt Bush returned to start the eighth inning. He had entered the game in the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs and retired the side, although the Jays tacked on a run with sacrifice fly to push their lead to 6-3.
Bush’s first pitch in the eighth, a 97 mph fastball, glanced off Bautista’s elbow and planted in his side. Both dugouts were warned.
Whether it was a purpose pitch for Bautista’s over-the-top bat flip after last fall’s go-ahead home run in Game 5 of the division series may never be known for sure. Bush declined to comment when asked if it was a purpose pitch. It would have been an odd moment to put the tying runner on, especially for a pitcher making his second major league appearance.
The Blue Jays seemed convinced the pitch had purpose. Banister denied it was intentional.
“I’m not going to entertain that talk or question,” he said. “This is a young man in his second appearance in the big leagues. I’m sure that there was adrenaline flowing, he’s been here for a few nights, he’s seen the intensity level [and is] nowhere near perfect. To think that we’re going to put the tying run on base on purpose? I’m sorry.”
After Bush retired Edwin Encarnacion, Jake Diekman took over against Justin Smoak. Smoak hit a sharp grounder to Adrian Beltre, who threw to Rougned Odor at second to start the 5-4-3 double play. Bautista’s slide into second knocked Odor off-balance and Odor’s throw to first sailed high and wide. Odor pushed Bautista and as Bautista approached him Odor landed a right hook to the side of Bautista’s face.
Both dugouts and bullpens emptied onto the field and a scrum of punches and shouting lasted for several minutes in shallow center field. After the umpires restored order (for the time being) and reviewed the play, Bautista’s slide into second was ruled in violation of the slide rule and he, Odor, Josh Donaldson and Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele were all ejected.
In the third inning, Jays first-base coach Tim Leiper and manager John Gibbons had already been tossed. Somehow, Gibbons was out on the field during the eighth-inning skirmish.
It was two good teams battling in the playoffs last year. We were down 2-0 and came back and won three straight. I thought all that was behind us, but apparently not. But to go down to the last at-bat, I don’t know about that.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons
“It was my team out there,” Gibbons said. “I didn’t want to sit here and drink too much wine. You got to go out there. I’m sure the league will say something about that but it’s kind of the manager’s responsibility.”
To the Jays, Bush’s pitch was intentional and Odor’s punch was out of line. Odor is likely to earn a stiff suspension. He was unavailable for comment after the game.
“Obviously, everyone felt like they crossed the line,” Bautista said. “It shows, at least the apparent lack of leadership that they have over there when it comes to playing baseball the right way.
“I thought it was pretty cowardly of them too 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.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Prince Fielder was hit by the first pitch from Jesse Chavez. Chavez was immediately ejected and the dugouts briefly emptied again but no punches were thrown this time.
“It was ugly and unfortunate,” Gibbons said. “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. I’ve been around this game a long time, like a lot of these guys, and it’s sort of surprising.
“If what happened last year bothers you that much, you usually take it up. Everybody is going to say ‘Oh, it was a one-run game. The ball got away.’ The guys who play the game know better. That ain’t going to fly.”
Bush, who had not yet been released from the Florida department of corrections last October, was watching the Rangers-Blue Jays series.
“Yeah, it was a memorable game, I was really hoping we could pull it off. I was rooting for the Rangers the whole way,” said Bush, who signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in December. “I really wish we could have won that game. It’s just amazing to be a part of this team and go out there and beat Toronto.”
Rangers players stayed away from directly commenting on the fisticuffs.
“I’m not going to get into all the back and forth,” said Desmond, who was 2 for 4 with four RBIs. “This is a good win for us to build on.”
The Rangers won their final two games against the Jays after losing the four previous, including the past three in Toronto.
“It was a good evaluation of what we are are as a team. Obviously, we got it handed to us at their place 3-1,” Desmond said. “It kind of humbled us a little bit, I think.
“We had another opportunity here to kind of test ourselves against them and came out on top. Not to say it was easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt like we rose to the occasion a little bit, which was good.”
Rangers at Oakland A’s
9:05 tonight, FSSW