How did we get to a point where the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays have Major League Baseball’s hottest rivalry? After all, their 2015 meeting was the first postseason clash between the two teams. From the time the Blue Jays entered the American League in 1977 through 2015, the two teams enjoyed winning seasons in the same year only nine times. Only two of those (2010, 2015) have come in the 21st Century.
Whether it adds up or not, we’ve reached a point where a team from the land of football and another from hockey country have the sport’s hottest rivalry. So, what’s the timeline here? What led up to Sunday’s Rougned Odor vs. Jose Bautista brawl? How did the Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry become the fiercest rivalry in the game?
Incident 1: Rule 6.03a
This whole thing really started in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series. More specifically, it started in the seventh inning.
The teams were tied 2-2. Texas was batting with two outs in the seventh inning and Odor on third base. Toronto pitcher Aaron Sanchez threw a ball to Shin-Soo Choo. Catcher Russell Martin attempted to throw the ball back to Sanchez, but his throw struck Choo’s bat.
Odor took off for home plate when the ball got away but before he crossed the plate, umpire Dale Scott ruled the ball dead, sending Odor back to third.
Jeff Bannister came out to argue the play and a replay review determined that Odor’s run was good, citing rule 6.03a and giving the Rangers the lead.
Things got ugly during the ensuing argument. As Gibbons was arguing the decision, some of Toronto’s fans began protesting their own way, throwing bottles and cans on the field. In all of the commotion, John Gibbons put the game under protest.
The protest would become moot only one-half inning later.
Incident 2: The bat flip
The bottom of the seventh will not make the career highlight film of Elvis Andrus. The Texas shortstop committed two errors in the frame and also failed to come up with a ball on an error that was charged to Mitch Moreland.
The three errors set up a bases loaded, nobody out situation for the Blue Jays. Disaster appeared to strike Toronto when Ben Revere hit a possible double play ball. Chris Jimenez caught the ball at the plate and readied himself to make a throw to try to double the speedy Revere off at first. Pinch runner Dalton Pompey had other ideas, taking out Gimenez’s legs with a slide.
Bannister argued the legality of the slide and the play was reviewed. This time, however, the review went the Blue Jays’ way and the bases remained loaded. American League MVP Josh Donaldson then tied the game on an apparent single, but a heads up play from Odor nailed Revere at second, getting the second out. The game was tied, but the Rangers were in position to get out of the inning with minimal damage done. They only needed to retire Jose Bautista.
That did not happen.
Bautista crushed a 1-1 pitch from Sam Dyson into the left field seats, giving his team a 6-3 lead. Immediately after hitting the ball, Bautista remained in the batter’s box, watching it sail out of the park. He eventually did take his trot around the bases, but not before angrily tossing his bat away in one of the most epic bat flips of all-time.
The bat flip clearly ruffled the feathers of Dyson and the Rangers, but no real drama started until Edwin Encarnacion waited to step in the box until Bautista could take a curtain call — or so Dyson thought. Encarnacion was actually trying to prevent the fans from throwing more debris onto the field, but Dyson was clearly in no mood. The two eventually got into a shouting match that caused the benches to clear.
Dyson finally ended the inning by retiring Troy Tulowitzki. A brief verbal exchange between Dyson and Tulo triggered yet another bench clearing incident.
Between the reviews and bench clearing confrontations, the seventh inning took 53 minutes to play. The Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry was non-existent before this game.
But in a little less than an hour, it became quite intense.
Incident 3: 2016’s first six games
The two teams played the first six of their seven 2016 games in relative peace.
The games were generally very competitive contests. Toronto had two walk-off victories when they hosted Texas in a four-game series at the beginning of May, while the Rangers returned the favor with one walk-off win in one of their home games.
Still, all of the hostility from the 2015 playoff series appeared firmly in the rear view mirror. Two players were hit by a pitch (one for each team) but there was absolutely nothing to foreshadow what would happen in the team’s seventh and final contest. Everything appeared peaceful.
Appearances can be deceiving.
Incident 4: May 15, 2016
Another classic, yet completely peaceful game seemed to be taking place. Texas went up 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a three-run homer by Ian Desmond.
In the top of the eighth, the Rangers extracted some revenge on Bautista when Matt Bush nailed him with a fastball to lead off the inning. Bautista got his chance for revenge two hitters later, when Justin Smoak hit a ground ball to Adrian Beltre at third base. Beltre threw the ball to second, getting the force out, but a late slide from Bautista caused Odor’s throw to go wild. Eventually, it was determined that the slide was illegal, granting Texas the double play.
But before that could happen, all hell broke loose and the two teams engaged in one of the wildest brawls baseball has seen in a long time.
There are a lot of pieces to analyze with this one.
One, Bautista’s slide was clearly late. He’s made no efforts to hide the fact that he was trying to retaliate for getting hit by the pitch.
Two, Bautista could have jogged to the visitor’s dugout (on the third base side) after the slide. Instead, he walked back towards Odor (and towards the first base side). So, he wasn’t exactly going out of his way to make nice.
Three, while the slide was late, it certainly appeared as though Odor was trying to hit Bautista with the ball, an opinion seconded by former MLB outfielder Torii Hunter. Throwing at a guy 60 feet away is bad enough, but throwing a ball in the face of someone who’s literally only inches away is hard to defend.
Four, a small group of fans in Texas decided to match the stupidity of the fans in Toronto who were throwing bottles and cans onto the field. Instead of throwing things onto the field, the Rangers fans decided to make it a nationalistic rivalry, breaking out into “U.S.A.” chants. Those chants, of course, ignored the fact that most of the Blue Jays players are Americans. They also ignored another small detail. Neither of the brawl’s centerpieces — Odor or Bautista — are American. Minor details, I suppose.
Five, Sunday’s melee gave us one of the rarest sights in baseball — a punch actually landing. Indeed, Odor threw the first punch at Bautista and it was quite the haymaker.
The brawl was one of the more wild in recent memory. It not only featured a landed punch, but also both managers (including the already ejected Gibbons) getting into a heated exchange.
Incident 5: The inevitable retaliation
The Rangers eventually won the game, but not before the Blue Jays exacted some revenge, hitting Prince Fielder to start the ensuing half inning.
Pitcher Jesse Chavez was, of course, ejected and the rest of the game was played without any major incidents.
Now, what will the future of the Rangers-Blue Jays rivalry give us? Well, until at least October, nothing. The two do not play again for the rest of this season and we can thank baseball’s unbalanced schedule for that.
Intentional beanballs don’t tend to happen in such abundance in the postseason, as the stakes are too high to allow runners on base as a way of settling a score. That, of course, does not mean that nothing will happen, but the chances are at least slightly decreased.
What will happen next year is just a guessing game at this point. Still, chances are that this one isn’t quite over.