The Bat Flip was just a small part of a Magical night.
I get asked a lot about what the highlight of my career has been. For the longest time, it was a hard question to answer. These days, it’s a no brainer.
October 14, 2015, game 5 of the ALDS between the Jays and the Texas Rangers. It’s a day that will be stuck in my brain for the rest of my life and I had one of the best seats in the house. Every time I see the pic of that “bat flip”, and see myself jumping inappropriately, it reminds me of just how big that moment was.
Sadly, the actual flipping of Bautista’s bat and the controversy that followed, have taken away from so much of what that home run meant to the organization, the fans, and really the entire country. Even those who don’t consider themselves fans, were glued to the TV that day.
The events that led to the homer also add to the impact, and make it, in my opinion, right there with Joe Carter’s World Series blast, as the greatest moment in franchise history.
Yes, Carter’s homer ended the game and the World Series, but I recall more excitement following the 1992 World Series. By 1993, it was expected. They were the champs, on the top of the baseball world, and were the favourites to repeat.
Bautista’s homer came after 22 years of no post season. It happened in front of a new generation of fans, many of whom weren’t even born to see the parades of 92 and 93. Adding the cherry on top were the events that led to Bautista stepping to the plate in the bottom of the 7th of a 3-3 game, with 2 on and 2 out.
No one ever talks about the bottom of the 6th, when Edwin Encarnacion tied the game at 2, with a solo homer off Cole Hamels. The reason being, is that Texas quickly regained the lead in the top of the 7th, thanks to the most bizarre play I’ve ever witnessed in a baseball game.
With two outs, and a runner on 3rd, Russell Martin’s throw back to Aaron Sanchez, hit the bat of Shin- Soo Choo. As the ball rolled up the 3rd base line, Rougned Odor, who will become ever tied to Bautista, came in to score. . Everyone, including home plate umpire Dale Scott, assumed the play was dead. After a lengthy video review, it was deemed a live ball, the run counted, and all hell broke loose in a very emotion Rogers Centre. Down in the camera bay, I couldn’t hear the person next to be talk, due to the sheer volume of the angry crowd. As I looked up, I could see cups and bottles flying down from the 500 level, and realized I was in the line of fire, and used my clipboard to cover my head.
Once the fans settled down, the litter was cleared from the field and play resumed, reality sunk in. The Jays were now down a run, heading to the bottom of the 7th, and the hope of completing an improbable series win, was quickly dying. That’s right, another detail lost on many..The Jays lost the first 2 games of the series at home, won the next 2 on the road, and were looking to do what only 5 other teams had done since 1995. By the time the bottom of the 7th began, it was looking like the Jays weren’t going to make it 6.
Then, something very unexpected happened. The Rangers forgot how to play defence. 3 hitters and 3 Texas errors. That loaded the bases with nobody out, but the Jays were doing all they could to not score. Ben Revere’s ground ball forced Kevin Pillar out at home, then Josh Donaldson popped up, but it was just deep enough to allow the runner at 3rd to tag and score to tie the game.
That brought Bautista to the plate, and with a 1-1 count, he hit the biggest home run of his career, turning a crowd that was still angry and in shock, to pure euphoria. Had he not flipped his bat would the homer have the same impact? Of course it would have. Yes, the bat flip is now iconic, but at the time, I’d bet most of the sold out Rogers Centre had no idea he had even done it. I know I didn’t.
I don’t blame Bautista for being caught up in the moment, but his legacy will always revolve around the flip, pitchers throwing at him and infielders punching him in the chin.
When we recall Carter’s homer, sure we remember the jumping up and down the 1st base line, but what’s etched in my mind, is the ball leaving the park. For Jose, every replay we see, will show multiple angles of the flip, but almost ignore the ball clearing the wall.
For me, it will always be remembered as “The Home Run” not “The Bat Flip”
Thank you Jose Bautista, for being a huge part of the highlight of my career.