TORONTO – When it was all over, Jose Bautista stood on a table, grabbed a bottle of champagne and poured it over his head.
It was only fitting. The 34-year-old Blue Jays slugger, who has waited so long to see his team prosper in the post-season, had delivered a wild ending to an even wilder game. A stiff drink was warranted — and needed.
“Bautista, he’s got the flair for the dramatic, you know,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said fondly. “On the national stage, it really showed off.”
Capping a deciding game filled with controversy, bad blood and just plain craziness, Bautista’s three-run seventh-inning homer propelled the Jays into the American League Championship Series as baseball karma delivered Toronto an unforgettable 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
Game 5 of the AL Division Series was filled with drama — and almost as much talk as play on the field before a riled-up sellout crowd of 49,742 under the Rogers Centre roof.
The game lasted an intense three hours 37 minutes and seemed longer. The decisive seventh inning alone lasted 53 minutes.
When the dust settled, the Jays had rallied from a 2-0 hole to win three straight and will now face the Royals in Kansas City in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night. It was Toronto’s first home playoff win since Joe Carter’s home run secured the 1993 World Series.
And baseball had a playoff game that will long be talked about, for the good and bad.
“It’s very rewarding for this group,” said Gibbons. “We thought we were too good to bow out in the first round. But they (the Rangers) were just as good over there.
“It’s special really for everybody around here because it’s been so long,” he added. “You can have a great year and if you bow out in that first round, it’s still a good accomplishment but it just doesn’t seem right. So we’re moving on and hopefully play well this next series.”
The Jays rushed the mound to celebrate when it was over, followed by police to monitor the at-times unruly crowd. In the locker-room, there was yet another wild, wet party.
“I don’t drink but I feel drunk,” said pitcher R.A. Dickey.
Later, wearing their ALDS championship T-shirts, players came out to high-five fans and celebrate on the mound.
Tied 2-2, the contest was turned on its head in the top of the seventh.
With Rougned Odor on third and Shin Soo-Choo at the plate with two outs, Toronto catcher Russell Martin’s return throw back to the mound hit Choo’s bat in the box and flew off into the distance.
Odor raced home while the Jays players held their arms up in disbelief. Home plate umpire Dale Scott, who had called time, then awarded Odor the base — and the run — after a confab. As beer and garbage flew out of the stands, there was more talk and a review.
The ruling was the play stood — that Choo had not intentionally interfered so the ball was alive and in play. Martin was given a throwing error and the irate Jays, now trailing 3-2, filed a protest.
“That umpiring crew did a great job,” Gibbons said. “Those kinds of plays are never easy … it’s a crazy play. I’ve never seen it before like that. But it ended up turning out all right.”
Scott said later his mistake was in calling time. But the eventual ruling was right.
“Even if I had not called timeout, he was on his way, so we scored the run,” the umpire said later.
By chance, Martin was up to open the bottom of the seventh. And karma kicked in with three straight Texas errors — one by first baseman Mitch Moreland and two by shortstop Elvis Andrus — allowing Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins to load the bases with none out.
“The baseball gods don’t lie,” said Jays pitcher David Price. “I don’t know who the baseball gods are, where they’re from, what country they’re from — they don’t lie.”
The Rangers got pinch-runner Dalton Pompey out at home with the Rangers upset at the take-no-prisoners slide that took out catcher Chris Gimenez. Reliever Sam Dyson took over for Rangers ace Cole Hamels.
Josh Donaldson drove in Pillar on a field’s choice floater that just went over Odor’s glove to tied it at 3-3. Bautista then slammed a three-run homer to settle the score, pausing dramatically to savour his handiwork before flipping the bat and trotting round the bases.
“I can’t really remember what was going through my mind, to be quite honest with you,” said Bautista.
“After I made contact … I just enjoyed the moment, rounded the bases, got to the dugout. And after all the guys stopped punching me and hitting me is when I kind of started realizing what had happened. I knew I did something great for the team at the moment of impact because I knew I hit that ball pretty good, and I gave us the lead in a crucial moment so I was happy to do that.”
Dyson took umbrage at Bautista’s actions, jawing at Edwin Encarnacion, who was next up. The benches and bullpen emptied, although nothing came of it.
The benches emptied again after the inning finally ended. Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle, who was in uniform but not on the playoff roster, was the only player ejected after the scuffles.
Texas put two men on in the eighth but closer Roberto Osuna ended the threat before wrapping up the ninth.
Osuna pointed and looked high at the sky — well the roof — after the final out.
Rookie Rangers manager Jeff Banister, whose team had risen from last in the AL last season to AL West champions, spoke proudly of his team in a losing cause.
“Look, one inning won’t define who this ball club is and who they’ve been all year long,” he said.
The Jays are the 15th team in MLB history to force a Game 5 in a best-of-five series when down 0-2 and only the third to win after losing the first two games at home (the Yankees in 2001 and San Francisco Giants in 2012 also did it).
The tension had already been palpable from the get-go with the rally towel-waving crowd up and down like kids on a sugar high. On the field, anything debatable was reviewed, argued or at least discussed.
It was more like “The View” than Wednesday late afternoon baseball.
Choo homered for the Rangers, who also picked up single runs in the first and third.
Encarnacion hit a solo shot for the Jays, who answered with runs in the third and sixth
The game was a rematch of Game 2 with 24-year-old Marcus Stroman going up against Hamels, the World Series MVP in 2008 with the Phillies. Neither figured in the decision that day, with the Rangers winning 6-4 in 14 innings.
As in the first meeting, both pitchers weathered some challenging innings and kept damage to a minimum before settling down.
A standing ovation preceded Stroman’s first pitch, a 93 m.p.h. strike. But DeShields hammered a double to left field, advanced on Choo’s groundout and beat the throw to score on Prince Fielder’s fielder’s choice for an early 1-0 lead.
It was Fielder’s first RBI since Game 1 of the 2012 AL Championship Series. He had gone 84 consecutive at-bats without driving in a run in the playoffs. Only Bill Mueller (98 at-bats without an RBI from 1997-2004) had a longer playoff drought.
Aaron Sanchez came in for Stroman to start the seventh. Stroman gave up two runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw 98 pitches, 68 for strikes.
Hamels exited with one out in the seventh, He gave up five runs — only two earned — on four hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. He threw 111 pitches, 72 for strikes.
Toronto fell into a hole, losing the first two games at home 5-3 and 6-4 in extra innings before rallying for 5-1 and 8-4 victories in Texas.
Wednesday’s game was played nearly 30 years to the day that the Jays played their last sudden-death game (Oct 16th, 1985, a loss to Kansas City).
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