Source: Associated Press
The date is October 14, 2015. The Blue Jays are playing their biggest game since 1993. The Jays are down against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the 7th, series is tied at 2. The winner of this game goes on to the next round to play the Kansas City Royals, the loser will have to pack their bags and wait for another season. Jose Bautista is the man at the root of this soon to be monumental moment. But first, let's set this up.
You see growing up in Toronto, the Blue jays were laughable. After the 94 player strike, the Jays tumbled down the standings. The stands were empty, the fanfare was nowhere to be seen, the Yanks were dominating baseball, times were tough being a Jays fan heading into the new millennium.
The Jays and the Skydome were bought by Rogers and renamed it the Rogers Centre. As a company they tried their best to make the Jays ballpark a friendlier baseball atmosphere. The Jays were spending money and were willing to compete against the behemoth Red Sox and Yankees. Signing free agents like Troy Glaus, AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan and Shea Hillenbrand. Also having AL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells on the squad.
That 2006 Jays team had 87 wins, their highest win total since the 94 strike. The Jays missed the playoffs though finishing third and couldn’t break through in that tough AL East. The division was so tough two years later the perennial bottom feeder Rays were contending and clinched a world series spot.
That same season the Jays traded for Jose Bautista. The Jays needed a 3rd baseman after Scott Rolen went down with injuries, it was a trade more for the now rather than the future. At the time Bautista had hit 58 HRs in the three and a half seasons prior to the time he went to Toronto and was fairly average, if not below average, two years in his time with Toronto. Bautista's MLB career seemed to be at a crossroads.
But in 2010 Bautista changed his swing thanks to new hitting coach at the time Dwayne Murphy. A new swing and new outlook on hitting Bautista became one of the most feared hitters in the game. He hit a whopping 54 HRs that year, 41 more than the previous season, and was selected to his first all star game.
Still, the Jays though couldn't get over the hump. Thanks to the Kansas City Royals making the playoffs in 2014, Toronto now had the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. Something had to change for Toronto to get to the dance.
2015 was going to be a huge year for the Jays organization. Gm Alex Anthopoulos landed Josh Donaldson from the A's at the beginning of the season, and acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price at the deadline. The Jays were all in, clinching home field and ended their playoff drought.
Toronto would drop the first two games of the series, but would answer back in game three facing elimination staying alive with a win. In game 4 the Jays offence woke up and forced a game 5 with a 8-4 victory. A lot of Canadian fans were also displeased with the American broadcast coverage and its bias towards the Rangers, that however, had nothing on what was to come.
Game 5 had quite an infamous sequence which would put the Jays behind. Tied at 2, catcher Russell Martin would throw the ball off of Shin-Soo Choo's bat, The umps ruled the ball live and the ended up scoring Roughned Odor. The fans were irate. Boos, beer cans, and other other objects were showered onto the field. The game was even halted due to the intensity of the situation. Looking back it was the right call but you couldn't tell Jays fans that.
Bottom 7 the Jays would look to turn the tide. An Andrus error would allow Martin to reach 1st. Next play Pillar grounds to the Rangers 1st baseman Mitch Moreland who would toss it to Andrus which would result in the Shortstops second error of the inning. Pillar on first, Martin on second (who would subbed out for Dalton Pompey), crowd is going nuts. Ryan Goins would lay down a sac bunt which led to another Andrus error, tough inning for the former all-star.
Bases loaded, no outs, down by one, Revere steps to the plate. He grounds to first, Moreland makes a nice throw to home getting Pompey on the force. One out. With the meat of the Jays lineup due up the Rangers pulled Hamels in favour of stud RP Sam Dyson. In 31 and a half innings Dyson had an ERA of 1.15, pretty good. Donaldson would hit a bloop single to tie the game but Revere would tossed out at second. Two outs, tie game, up next....Bautista.
Coming into this game "Joey Bats" was 4 for 17 with a homer and 2 rbi's, needless to say he wasn't having a great series but with an rbi double earlier in the game he was starting to feel it and this was the perfect moment for him to burst through. With the count 1-1 Bautista would a Dyson fastball into the second deck. The biggest homer the Jays faithful had seen in nearly two decades. With the crowd going nuts and the Jays going nuts, Bautista would hurl his bat into the air in a moment that would be etched in Toronto history.
In the aftermath the Rangers would take exception to the big moment, benches would clear, fans would again throw items onto the field, but ultimately the damage was done and the Jays would move on to the ALCS with the final score of 6-3.
The Jays would bow out to the Royals in the next round but that bat flip will always give me chills. Bautista would play a few more seasons in Toronto, and even though they would never get a chance at the big one, his heroics in that game will be told to generations to come. That 2015 season will always have a place in our hearts. October 14 2015, was the day we remember Joey Bats iconic Bat flip. Always duplicated, never replicated.