A look at five of Jose Bautista's most memorable moments in Toronto
Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) bats against the New York Yankees during seventh inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Friday, September 22, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 24, 2017 10:29AM EDT
TORONTO -- A decade-long era appears to be coming to an end as Jose Bautista will likely play his final game in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform this week.
The six-time all-star slugger rose from obscurity to fame with the Blue Jays and helped return baseball to prominence in Canada, leading the team to back-to-back American League Championship Series while providing a slew of memorable moments along the way. Here are the top five:
THE BAT FLIP
Bautista provided one of the most iconic images in Blue Jays history with one flip of his bat. But what a flip it was. Emotionally-charged after hitting a tiebreaking three-run homer in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series against Texas, Bautista paused for a moment as the ball flew out of the park, then tossed his bat high over his shoulder as the sold-out Rogers Centre crowd erupted. The Rangers had taken a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning on what was ruled a throwing error on Russell Martin, and Toronto was on the verge of elimination in its first post-season appearance since 1993. But Kevin Pillar scored on a Josh Donaldson force out to tie the game, then Bautista hit his line drive homer -- the most significant in Toronto since Joe Carter's World Series winner in '93 -- to propel them into the AL Championship Series.
THE REVENGE HOMERS
Bautista could hit a home run regardless of his mood, but the ball always seemed to fly more freely when he was angry. He had a knack for making a pitcher pay for plunking him with a pitch, nearly plunking him, or even just saying something he didn't appreciate. That was never more true than against the Baltimore Orioles, especially reliever Darren O'Day. The Bautista-O'Day feud began on June 21, 2013 when the Baltimore side-armer struck out Bautista to end an inning, then made a comment as he skipped off the mound. When the two faced each other the next day, Bautista took O'Day deep, and as he rounded third base, made a talking gesture with his hand in the pitcher's direction. Two years later Bautista tagged two Baltimore relievers over a 10-day span after both threw a pitch behind him earlier in the at-bat. The first was off O'Day on April 12, 2015, a two-run homer in the eighth inning. The other was a seventh-inning two-run blast against Jason Garcia on April 21.
THE 50TH HOME RUN
Bautista reached rarefied air on Sept. 23, 2010, when he launched a homer run off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez at Rogers Centre to become just the 26th player in Major League history to hit the 50-homer plateau in a single season. The homer came in Bautista's first at-bat and represented Toronto's only run in a 1-0 win. While Bautista finished the year with 54 homers, his 50th stands out, not only because of the milestone itself, but because of when it happened -- at a time when fan attendance in Toronto was at an all-time low. Only 12,590 people saw the historic homer in person and the Blue Jays closed out the year 12th in overall attendance out of the 14 AL teams. Those numbers steadily increased over the next seven years thanks in large part to Bautista. Toronto led the AL in total attendance in 2016 and 2017.
Bautista's bat may have created a formidable rivalry with the Rangers, but it was his face -- and Rougned Odor's fist -- that solidified it. Tensions between the two teams boiled over on May 15, 2016, almost seven months to the day of Bautista's infamous bat flip, when the Rangers second baseman clocked Bautista in the jaw following his aggressive slide at the bag. Bautista had reached first base when Texas reliever Matt Bush hit him in the triceps with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball, and slid hard into second two batters later on a ground ball from Justin Smoak. Odor's punch prompted a benches-clearing brawl and six ejections. After the game Bautista told reporters: "He got me pretty good, so I have to give him that. It takes a little bit bigger man to knock me down." Odor was suspended eight games for the incident, later reduced to seven. Bautista received a one-game suspension.
Bautista was never one to shy away from a good quote, but an unlikely foe (or hero, if you're an Indians fan) made him eat his words during the 2016 ALCS. Following the Blue Jays' Game 4 win against the Indians, which cut Toronto's series deficit to 3-1, Bautista told reporters that Cleveland's Game 5 pitcher, rookie Ryan Merritt, would be "shaking in his boots" when facing the potent Toronto lineup the next night. Merritt, who had pitched only 11 innings over four games before that, shut down the Blue Jays, holding them to just two hits over 4 1/3 frames as the Indians won the game 3-0 and the series 4-1. Cleveland had some fun at Bautista's expense after the game, holding up a pair of cowboy boots in the clubhouse as they celebrated. A number of players took to Twitter to rub it in publicly, including pitcher Trevor Bauer, who posted a photo of a champagne bottle inside a boot.