Last night and this morning, I tried to get my thoughts on the Odor-Bautista fight out on Twitter. That's probably not the best place to do so, since roughly 140 characters make it difficult. So I'm going to take a shot in this forum, which allows me to go into detail and at length.
Pre-game warning: I'm a believer of (and as a player, I followed) the unwritten rules of baseball. If you think they are foolish, then you probably won't agree with what I have to say. Feel free to comment, but keep your comments respectful, please.
You already know about the bat flip in the ALDS that was the supposed "beginning" of this. More on that in a moment. However, it wasn't just a bat flip. If you watch the video, Bautista hit the ball, stares at it for a second, then briefly stares down the pitcher (Sam Dyson), and finally he emphatically flips his bat. Generally, a bat flip rubs the pitcher the wrong way. However, to add to that by staring down the pitcher, the batter not only puts himself on that team's proverbial "shit list," it moves him right to the top of that list.
Fast forward to the 2016 season. Many expected the Rangers to get payback by plunking Bautista in his first at-bat in their first meeting. That at-bat came a week or two ago in Toronto. Nothing happened. As a matter of fact, four games were played with relative quiet on the payback front. The Blue Jays come to Arlington this last Friday, and for two games, all seems quiet. However, in Bautista's final at-bat in the final regular season meeting between the two teams, he gets plunked. Whether or not he is hit intentionally (more on that in a moment - I promise I'm getting to it) doesn't matter at this point. What matters is that Bautista takes offense and, well, the rest is history.
First, let's talk about the pitch that hit him. Matt Bush, making just his second big-league appearance, has a fast ball and control that has been praised by many within the organization. So to many, it seems odd that he would lose that control and hit Bautista on accident. However, if you go to Bautista's previous at-bats, the Rangers were pitching him away. In his last at-bat before the HBP, the Rangers again pitched away and Bautista extended and connected, driving a ball to the gap that drove in three runs. Fast forward to the eighth. Bush, remembering that at-bat, does what almost all other fastball-dominant pitchers do in that situation: he sends a fastball inside to brush the batter back so that he (Bush) can attack the outside edge of the plate. That's the way baseball has been played for more than a hundred years, and Bautista is certainly not the first to get plunked in the process. Yes, I understand that he was hit with the first pitch, but that doesn't really matter. The inside pitch had a purpose, and I don't believe it was to send a message.
However, for the sake of discussion, let's say Bush did hit Bautista intentionally. Bautista certainly should have expected to be hit at some point, those unwritten rules I mentioned before dictated as much. Bautista has a right to be upset - getting a 98 mile-an-hour fastball just above the hip has to hurt like hell. However, the issue should have been dead at that point. People will argue that he should have been hit in his first at-bat. Let me tell you why that wasn't and shouldn't have been the case. First, the Rangers have no obligation to get retribution at any set time. Bannister doesn't have to let Gibbons know it's going to happen. The Rangers have the right to do it whenever they damn-well please. Second, look at how Toronto fans responded when things got heated in Toronto during the ALDS - they threw garbage and all kinds of other debris on the field, creating a hazard for the players and anyone else on the field. Can you imagine the mayhem that would happen if Bautista was plunked there? The Rangers didn't want that to happen. Not knowing exactly how the fans would react in Texas, they waited until the very end in case things got out of hand in their ballpark. Lastly, had Bautista been plunked in that first at-bat, the potential for every meeting thereafter to explode would be a dark and heavy shadow over every game. Every perceived transgression could set off another melee like the one we saw last night. In the end, the best time to hit Bautista was the final at-bat in their last regular season meeting. This was the safest play to ensure that nothing more would happen, essentially tainting only one game rather than all seven.
Back to those unwritten rules. As I mentioned before, everything should have been square after Bautista was plunked. He should have taken his base and let it be. If he felt he needed retribution for being plunked, he should have let his pitcher handle it in the bottom half of the inning (which they tried to do, even after the fight). Bautista isn't special, contrary to what he may believe. You see other hitters know it's coming, take the pitch, get upset (rightfully so) and take their base and that's the end of it. However, Bautista places himself above everyone else in the game and feels he deserves something more than everyone else. Rather than trying to confront the pitcher, he decides instead to take an illegal slide into second in an attempt to take the legs out of Rougned Odor. The slide is illegal because the injuries it causes are career-threatening. (This isn't the first time he has slid like that this season; he did it earlier in the year and received no punishment for it) Odor receives the ball and attempts to turn the double play, but the throw goes far to the right of first base, a fact that was nullified by the illegal slide, which is by rule called an out at both bases.
Before I get into the scuffle itself, let's talk about chatter about Odor going low to make his throw. First, middle infielders are taught to throw low when turning double plays. This prevents the runner from taking out the knees of the fielder. For those saying it was dirty of Odor to "try" to hit Bautista in the face with the throw, you need to understand that it is not illegal for the fielder to do just that. However, I argue that Odor wasn't trying to hit him. If he wanted to, Odor would have hit him. It wouldn't have been a near-miss.
Back to the scuffle. Bautista waits until he is literally at the bag to extend his legs and "slide." Had he hit Odor, Odor could have been seriously injured or, God forbid, his career could have been ended. Odor has every right to be upset. As Dallas Braden said on Baseball Tonight, at that point, this is no longer a Rangers versus Blue Jays rivalry, it's now Jose Bautista threatening Odor's livelihood. Odor has every right to defend himself. Add into the fact the Bautista pops up and immediately starts shouting at Odor and coming at him in an aggressive manner, anyone would have punched Bautista. And contrary to what he said, everyone and their blind grandmother can see Bautista beginning to draw back to take a swing at Odor; Odor just beat him to the punch (pun intended).
Odor will receive a fine and suspension, and he deserves those things. Bautista should receive both as well, though his suspension won't be as long. Let's face it though, his humiliation in the national media should honestly be enough. Ask Robin Ventura how that feels.
Look, it boils down to this simple statement. As a player, you can celebrate after a homerun, especially one as big as Bautista's was. However, the extracurricular activity - the ridiculous bat flip and the stare-down of the pitcher - are a written invitation for a team to get retribution. As such, you take the pitch, take your base and let it die. You can even talk about how classless you feel the other team is after the game is over, but you cannot try to take the situation into your own hands when you were the instigator of the issue to begin with.
Now that I have discussed the incident in a fairly objective matter, it's my time to be a total Ranger homer and share some of the funnier Twitter reactions. Let's get to it!
was Bautista winding up to tickle him? https://t.co/4QxFbxqM3n— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) May 15, 2016
No sympathy for Bautista. What is known as "frontier justice" in NHL. Sooner or later, you get what's coming to you. https://t.co/g4os8q6FlO— Clark Judge (@clarkjudgeTOF) May 15, 2016
Royals walk it off, win a series and Jose Bautista gets punched in the face. pic.twitter.com/BNOiPO27Cy— Kings of Kauffman (@KingsofKauffman) May 15, 2016
A close approximation of Rougned Odor right before hitting Bautista.#Rangers pic.twitter.com/XkjCZswmhA— Ranger Danger! (@RangerDangerMLB) May 15, 2016
One scout when Rougned Odor debuted: "The thing I love about him the most is you do not want to [expletive] with him." That's a good scout.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 15, 2016
Bautista just asked Siri what planet he's on.— Bryan Hayes (@HayesTSN) May 15, 2016
And finally, two quick quotes from local media:
"Now Bautista is 2-for-5 today." - Steve Busby, Rangers' TV play-by-play announcer, immediately after Odor punched Bautista.
"Among those venting was Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays’ staff ace and, by all accounts, a good kid who worked hard to return from a knee injury last year and a fan favorite...said on the Twitter that he will never respect Odor. That led to a witty reply from former Rangers pitchers Brandon McCarthy, who asked, “Was Bautista winding up to tickle him?” Just last season Stroman was suspended five games for intentionally throwing at a batter’s head. Not sure Odor wants his respect." - Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jeff Wilson