In A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks utters the famous line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
Funny, he didn’t say anything about fighting.
Let’s start at the beginning, because this fight was really seven months in the making. You all remember it—Jose Bautista’s famous bat flip in Game 5 of the ALDS. It was the biggest moment of Bautista’s career and a low point for the Rangers, who were sent home after blowing a two games to none lead. Even then, there was tension. The benches cleared after Bautista’s majestic blast with Sam Dyson and Edwin Encarnacion exchanging words.
You figured retribution was coming for Bautista. The question was a matter of when, not if. Sure enough, Texas right-hander Matt Bush, who we’ll discuss in more detail later, drilled Bautista with the first pitch of the eighth inning. Why the Rangers waited 13 at-bats (28 if you include the series two weeks ago) to plunk Bautista remains a mystery. But that’s not the point. The point is, Bautista got hit and he wasn’t happy about it.
Two batters later, Justin Smoak rolled a grounder to Adrian Beltre, who threw to Rougned Odor to get the out at second base. The contact from Bautista forced Odor’s throw off-line, allowing Smoak to reach safely at first. Odor took exception to the hard slide and slugged Bautista right in the face. After that, a melee ensued with both players getting tossed. The veteran Beltre tried to diffuse the situation by pulling Bautista away from Odor, but the damage had already been done. Josh Donaldson and Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele were also given the heave-ho from home plate umpire Dan Iassogna. Bautista was called for runner interference at second base, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
The fireworks didn’t stop there. Jesse Chavez began the next half-inning by throwing at Prince Fielder. The benches emptied again, though this time the clubs refrained from throwing punches. Chavez and Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale were both thrown out. Hale had been filling in for manager John Gibbons, who was ejected in the third inning for disagreeing with a ball called on Aaron Sanchez. In a separate incident, first base coach Tim Leiper was also asked to leave the premises for arguing a missed balk. Who knows what would have happened if the benches cleared again. Maybe the bat boy would have coached Toronto.
There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s go step-by-step. If you recall, Bautista was involved with another controversial slide earlier this year. Bautista tried to break up a double play at second base against the Rays but was called out for runner interference. MLB changed its policy on takeout slides this offseason because of safety concerns. By the letter of the law, Bautista’s slide was interference but it wasn’t as malicious as other slides we’ve seen (the slide that injured Ruben Tejada comes to mind).
“I had a hard slide at second base,” said Bautista after the game. “I tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.” Anyone can understand where Bautista is coming from, though admitting his intent probably won’t help his case when he goes in front of commissioner Rob Manfred during the appeal process.
It’s unclear what discipline Bautista will face—probably a short suspension—but we know it won’t be as severe as Odor’s punishment.
We call them “fights,” but that’s not an accurate description of most baseball skirmishes. Usually the benches clear, the two teams get close enough to yell at each other, and if things get particularly heated, we might even see a shove or two.
But Odor went full Mike Tyson and threw a legit haymaker at Bautista. You never see that in baseball. Give Bautista some credit. I probably would have been on the ground squirming in pain (fantasy baseball writers aren’t known for their fighting technique) if that happened to me, but Bautista hung in there and took it like a champ.
Bautista had his hands up too, so Odor can probably make the case that his punch was thrown in self-defense. Either way, it looks like he’ll be facing a lengthy suspension. Odor has given fantasy owners a huge lift this year with seven homers, 21 RBI and five steals. He’s also fifth among second basemen in runs scored (27) and sixth in slugging percentage (.500). That kind of production at a relatively weak fantasy position will be hard to replace.
If you’ve followed Odor throughout his career, his behavior Sunday probably didn’t shock you. Odor is a well-known hothead and even caused a similar brawl five years ago in the minor leagues. Marcus Stroman, who received his degree from Duke this weekend instead of traveling with the Blue Jays to Texas, had this to say: “Zero respect for Odor. Never had respect for him, never will.” Something tells me this rivalry is just getting started.
12 years ago, Matt Bush was a high school prodigy drafted first overall by San Diego. Years of off-field incidents culminated in a 2012 drunk driving arrest, which resulted in a 39-month prison sentence.
Bush’s comeback has been nothing short of remarkable. But somehow, the Rangers managed to ruin what should have been a feel-good moment for Bush by putting him in an awkward position. We’ll never know for certain, but it sure looked like the Rangers were targeting Bautista in the eighth inning. Becoming a pawn in some silly feud that should have ended seven months ago isn’t a great reward for finally making the big leagues.
“Bush was finally in the place where he wanted to be in the big leagues,” said former A’s pitcher Dallas Braden on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. “If this was indeed ordered, this is his opportunity to sort of ingratiate himself and endear himself to his teammates.”
Endear himself by beaning someone? No wonder guys like Bryce Harper are rebelling against baseball’s unwritten rules.
Baseball can be a petty sport and hitting players has often been perceived as a way of keeping things in check. Because that attitude persists, fights will continue to have their place in baseball. It happens. Sports bring out rare passion in people and anything can happen in the heat of the moment. As someone who grew up going to hockey games hoping to see fights, I admit bench-clearing brawls still carry a certain entertainment value. I probably would have finished this article a lot sooner if I hadn’t spent so much time re-watching the GIF of Odor winding up and hitting Bautista square in the jaw. Call it a guilty pleasure (side note: I’ve never seen two guys hit each other while both wearing sunglasses).
It’s a shame Bush had to be dragged into all of this, though Sunday’s game did come with a silver lining of sorts. The 30-year-old right-hander logged 1 1/3 scoreless innings for his first career win.
With the victory, Texas pulled a half-game ahead of Seattle for first place in the AL West. Ian Desmond plated four of the Rangers’ seven runs with three coming on a home run to left field in the seventh inning. Desmond was horrible in April (.229 AVG in 83 at-bats) but he’s been on fire since the calendar turned to May. In 57 at-bats this month, he’s hitting .316 with a .623 slugging percentage and 13 runs batted in.
Unfortunately these teams won’t see each other again until the playoffs, assuming they both make it.
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