The Unpredictable Finish To The Improbable Season

Over the first 5.5 innings, Game 5 went almost exactly according to the plan I had in my head: Texas jumped out to an early lead on Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, Cole Hamels experienced a couple shaky innings early on but ultimately settled down, and the Rangers were leading 2-1 needing 12 outs to reach the ALCS.

In the bottom of the 6th, Jose Bautista led off by fouling out to Elvis Andrus down the left field line — the 8th straight hitter Hamels had retired — setting up Edwin Encarnacion with no one on and 1 out. I thought it was telling, in Encarnarion’s first two at bats, that he was the one hitter in Toronto’s lineup Cole Hamels didn’t seem to want to give in to; he took a five-pitch walk to lead off the second, and was intentionally walked with first base open in the 3rd. Those were the only free passes Hamels allowed in the contest, both to the same guy.

In the bottom of the 6th, Encarnarcion more or less proved why, depositing a first pitch center-cut fastball deep into the domed Toronto late afternoon, tying the game 2-2. Right when the pitch crossed home plate and Edwin unleashed his bad will on the baseball, Hamels’s subsequent turn and twinge was an omnipresent micro-expression within the Rangers’ fan base. Cole Hamels battled all game, did everything he was counted on to do and then some, but it was that home run that took the control of the game out of his hands.

But that only tied the game.

The 7th inning of the TEX/TOR ALDS will go down in the history books as perhaps the strangest/weirdest/craziest of MLB’s expansive postseason history. So, of course the Rangers were involved.

Rougned Odor led off with an opposite field single against Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez — in for Stroman — and advanced to second on Chris Gimenez’s ensuing sacrifice bunt. Following a Delino DeShields infield groundout, Odor stood on third with two outs and Shin-Soo Choo at the plate.

After an innocuous 1-2 pitch that missed upstairs, catcher Russell Martin’s return throw to Sanchez clipped Choo’s left hand while he stood with his arm extended in the batter’s box, and the ball ricocheted and dribbled off near 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson. In that brief instance, Rougned Odor had the presence of mind to crash down the third base line and score, though it was originally ruled a dead ball and no run.

Jeff Banister came from the dugout and asked home plate ump Dale Scott, in an effort to get the call correct, to convene with all the umps to get the proper ruling. Once the run was awarded to the Rangers, loud “bullshit” chants arose from the hostile home crowd, and the field was littered with beer cans and debris from the disgusted onlookers — common protocol when you have 50,000 people operating under a mob mentality. The situation was so critical that two of the umps made a call to MLB’s command center in New York to make sure they didn’t mess up the revised ruling altogether. In total the ordeal lasted 23 minutes in real time.

When play resumed, Toronto manager John Gibbons notified Dale Scott that his club would play the remainder of the game under protest. Sanchez would go on to strikeout Choo, and the inning finally ended.

If that wasn’t a strange enough way to take a 3-2 lead in a winner-take-all playoff game, things got even weirder in the bottom half of the 7th. The first hitter, Russell Martin, led off by reaching on a harmless grounder up the middle that Elvis Andrus makes in his sleep; next, Kevin Pillar hit a three-hopper to Mitch Moreland who, going for a double play, threw the ball about five feet short of Andrus covering 2nd base, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. After that freakish timing, Jays 2B Ryan Goins bunted it straight to Adrian Beltre, but when he threw a strike to Elvis covering 3rd, the ball fell out of the heel of his glove, allowing the runner to reach again.

Three plays, three errors; bases loaded, nobody out.

Cole Hamels retired the final batter he faced — Ben Revere — on a fielder’s choice to Moreland, who went home to keep the game 3-2.

Jeff Banister summoned his best relief pitcher, Sam Dyson, for the season’s highest-leverage situation. Entering the game to face MVP Josh Donaldson with the bases loaded and one out, leading 3-2 in an elimination game, is right up at the summit in the Not Ideal department. Still, Dyson made a great pitch, jamming Donaldson on a huge swing, and it was the torque of the swing that may have thrown 2nd baseman Rougned Odor off just enough, allowing it to fall a couple strides behind him. Because Revere thought the ball would be caught, he was forced out at second, but the tying run scored nonetheless.

Tied at 3-3, Dyson — again, Texas’s best pitcher in that situation — gave 97 mph of his nastiest, and Jose Bautista hit one of the biggest home runs in Blue Jays franchise history. Just like that Toronto led 6-3 and it’s how the season would finish.

As for my observations:

  1. Some people, as they do, are getting bent out of shape about Bautista’s seismic bat flip, and how he celebrated unquestionably the biggest hit of his career. Sam Dyson said: “He’s doing stuff that kids do in whiffle ball games and backyard baseball.” Acting as the baseball police is a bad look for Dyson and the Rangers, and it’s too bad that so much of the attention following an amazing Game 5 had to focus on such petty nonsense. Sam Dyson was a great reliever down the stretch, and Jose Bautista — a great hitter — beat him in the biggest moment of the game/series/season/decade for Toronto. He won, so he deserves to celebrate however he wants.
  2. Elvis Andrus is getting slammed right now. Evan Grant actually wrote a column asking if this Game 5 would “define his career,” which is laughable when you think about it. Honestly, I think I’ve already exhausted too many words on this blog defending Elvis Andrus in the past; I’m not going to start that up again now. At $15 million AAV he isn’t being paid superstar money, and the expectation, or even notion, that he should be performing as such is out of line. His defense in 2015 was 7th in MLB among full-time shortstops, and his fluke 7th inning was simply that. A fluke. I feel terribly for him, because I know he feels terrible for letting his team down.
  3. The Rangers took the best team in the American League to 9 outs away from elimination at their home park. This wasn’t the prettiest way to finish the season, but it was a beautiful season even so. The Blue Jays outplayed Texas in every facet over the 5 game series; they hit more, they pitched better, they played better defense. In spite of every one of Toronto’s Big Four playing a key role in the series, the majority of the damage they inflicted came with no one on base. Bautista’s HR in G5 was the separator, and it’s what it took to get the Jays into the LCS.

This game is going to be talked about for a long time, and it sucks that, again, like seemingly every other, the Rangers came out on the wrong end of a classic.

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