Jeff Banister tries to explain the bench-clearing brawl in Rangers' 7-6 win
It’s not as if Rougned Odor sucker-punched the mayor.
Quite the contrary.
Sensing an imminent escalation of incivilities, Texas Rangers second baseman Odor formed a perfect fist with his right hand and delivered The Baseball Punch to End All Baseball Punches, striking Toronto’s Jose Bautista on the jaw with a directness that resonated with both retribution and justice.
Film at 11. Film at 7 tomorrow morning, too. Film on the MLB Network forever, probably, because this was baseball theater at its best — the game’s feistiest new rascal squaring the ledger with the league’s foremost bully.
When they parted last October, the Rangers and the Blue Jays had not agreed to exchange Christmas gifts. The bottle-throwing Toronto crowd and Bautista’s ensuing, over-the-top, series-clinching bat flip seared a bitter memory into the Rangers’ hearts.
I happened to be there, but we were all aware of what happened last fall.
Umpire crew chief Dale Scott, recalling Game 5 of the Rangers-Blue Jays ALDS series
Crew chief Dale Scott was the plate umpire that day in Toronto and handled first base Sunday.
“Sure, it’s in your mind,” Scott said, recalling Game 5 of the ALDS. “And I know they played in Toronto already, and I think everything went smooth up there. But you never know what’s going to happen.
“I happened to be there, but we were all aware of what happened last fall.”
Scott was correct. Unlike the debris shower that day that rained down upon the Rogers Centre turf after Scott allowed a controversial go-ahead Texas run to score, the first six games between the two teams this season had escaped controversy.
Sunday’s finale at Globe Life Park marked the final time the teams will meet during this regular season — a not-insignificant fact.
Suddenly, it was the eighth inning and Ian Desmond’s three-run homer had just put the home team ahead 7-6. Manager Jeff Banister allowed high-90s-throwing rookie Matt Bush to begin the inning and face the man who calls himself Joey Bats.
Bush, whose fastball command had previously been exemplary, plunked Bautista in the side with a fastball clocked at 97.
“Bautista gave a reaction that he wasn’t happy with being hit,” home plate umpire Dan Iassogna said. “Because of that reaction and what had happened in the previous season, I deemed it enough to issue a warning.”
A case could be made that after drilling Bautista, the account was squared. The bat flip and all the playoff yapping had been answered.
But when Justin Smoak followed with a would-be double-play grounder, Bautista decided that he needed to get in a last word.
I could have injured him, but I chose not to. I tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.
Toronto’s Jose Bautista, on the hard slide into Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor
“I had a hard slide at second base,” Bautista told reporters later. “I could have injured him, but I chose not to. I tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.”
Bautista punctuated his dirty slide with an apparent pointed epithet for Odor who, not one to retreat, pushed Bautista hard with both hands. As Bautista readied his own fist, Odor beat him to the draw with a Manny Pacquiao-caliber right hand.
Benches cleared. Odor was able to get in another punch to Josh Donaldson, before the scrum and ejections were sorted out.
“He got me pretty good, so I have to give him that,” Bautista said. “But it takes a little bit bigger man, I guess, to knock me down.”
It was brave talk. But the judges would have scored it a TKO in favor of Odor.
Suspensions and fines are certain to follow, including one for Toronto manager John Gibbons who returned to the field during the fight despite being ejected earlier in the game.
Gibbons didn’t like the timing of Bush’s pitch into Bautista’s side.
“The other 29 teams, they come at you right away,” Gibbons said. “But to wait until the end, it just sort of tells you something.”
First inning, last inning — what did it really matter? But there was no mistaking where the Toronto fingers were pointing.
They were aimed at Banister, whose Banny Rooster (his Twitter handle) combativeness has formed the team’s new mantra. Banister could be seen squarely in the middle of the player scrum, and he didn’t seem to be playing the role of a peacemaker. When the MLB office reviews this, it likely will not approve.
Banister needs to be careful. That’s at least twice that he’s been caught taking a finger-wagging role in what should be a players-only disagreement. His fellow managers are going to take notes.
Who cares, though, about the timing of the payback pitch? The Cardinals and Cubs have been feuding for 100 years. So Gibbons wanted the payback sooner, so that his Blue Jays had time to retaliate again?
That’s silly talk. There’s no timetable in baseball.
When asked about the Bush pitch and resulting bench-clearing, Banister said only, “I’m not going to entertain that talk or question.”
Odor, among others, faces a likely suspension, but the punch quickly drew applause from other baseball precincts. After all, he landed it on Bautista, not some club chaplain.
On behalf of former and current MLB players, I would like to thank Rougned Odor for that beautiful punch.
Ex-Padres pitcher Daniel McCutchen, on Twitter
Ex-San Diego pitcher Daniel McCutchen said on Twitter, “On behalf of former and current MLB players, I would like to thank Rougned Odor for that beautiful punch.”
The response was a testament to Bautista’s widespread . . . uh . . . popularity around the league. He may be beloved in Toronto, but his haughty attitude is loathed in the 29 other MLB ports.
“Cleanest punch I’ve ever seen landed in the big leagues,” said spring training teammate Jeremy Guthrie.
It was all that and more.
It answered the bat flip. It evened the scoreboard.
Maybe the two teams will meet again this October. Oh, the fun that would be.