Last Sunday the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers rekindled their tetchy past with a good old-fashioned Donnybrook. Well, as good as baseball fights get. At least in this dugout-clearing brawl there was one real punch thrown. Unlike hockey scraps, baseball fights tend to involve lots of players grabbing and holding, pushing and shoving, hooting and hollering but very little actual fighting.
To understand what spurred the altercation you have to go back to last year’s American League Division Series. In the seventh inning of game five Jose Bautista smacked a three-run homer. He stood for a moment admiring the hit and watching the ball sail over the fence, then he cockily flipped his bat as he began his home-run trot.
A smart-ass, unprofessional move that, not surprisingly, riled the Texas players. Fast-forward to last Sunday. The Major League Baseball schedule had Toronto in Texas for a three-game series; the two teams would then not meet again this regular season. With the Rangers up by one run in the top of the eighth inning, rookie Matt Bush took advantage of Bautista’s potentially last at-bat to send a message: something you normally would not do in a one-run game, he threw at him. Not at his head, but a fastball to the ribs.
You want to talk the talk; now let’s see you walk the walk.
Bautista took his place at first base and Bush was tossed from the game. The next batter hit a double-play ball, Texas second baseman Rougned Odor touched the base for the force, then turned to throw to first only to have Bautista try to barrel into him. Odor dodged him, hopped over him, but naturally took offense and confronted Bautista, shoved him and, just like Chris Nilan or John Ferguson, popped him with a right that knocked off Bautista’s sunglasses and left the Blue Jay wondering what day it was.
That’s right, a baseball fight with a real punch not only thrown, but squarely landed. Bautista was peeved at having been hit (by a rookie at that) but surely he must have realized that his take-out slide was going to cause a reaction. Someone needs to explain to him that it is never a good idea to start a fight, and lead with your chin.
Just as an aside, in my long career as a recreational pitcher, many, many rungs below the major leagues, it always seemed to me to be stupid to throw at a batter. The pitcher has a ball, the hitter a bat. If the pitcher throws at the hitter, he’d better kill or maim him. If not the pitcher finds himself facing an angry sore man who still has his bat, while the pitcher has thrown his only weapon and is left armed with a leather glove. I ever liked my chances with a glove versus a man with a bat. I’m no George Patton, but it is my humble opinion that throwing your only weapon is never a good idea. But I digress.
I was watching the game on Canadian TV with Blue Jay announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler both of whom went to great lengths to state that Bautista was in the right. Huh? At least studio analyst Gregg Zaun implied that Bautista should not be surprised at the treatment he got.