TORONTO -- Jose Bautista, who hit the home run that would have landed in Hudson Bay if the roof of the Buck Rogers Centre had been open, then flipped his bat in celebration somewhere between Yellowknife and Whitehorse, said he has never been part of a game like this one.
"Not in the big league level, not in the U.S.,'' said Bautista, who in the excitement of the moment forgot to mention the maple-leafed country that Wednesday night hosted this unforgettable mix of horsehide epic and bizarro theater. "Maybe in winter ball.''
Baseball purists will tell you that you can reconstruct any game just by looking at the box score. There is an exception to every rule -- and you'll soon be hearing a lot about Major League Baseball Rule 6.03 (a) (3) -- and this is it. Other than discerning the bare-bone facts -- the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 6-3 on Bautista's game-winning, three-run home run -- this box score only scratches the surface of what took place in a 53-minute seventh inning that will take its place among the oddest exercises ever witnessed, especially during the postseason, replete with blown umpiring calls, bench-clearing scrums, errors occurring on three successive plays followed by a misjudged flare, and a home run and bat flip that produced spasms of joy on one side and undisguised contempt on the other.
We very nearly had the first elimination game ever decided by an action that takes place hundreds of time every night and almost always goes unrecorded -- except when the baseball gods decide to stretch the bounds of believability beyond the shared experience of folks who collectively have spent decades in this game and have never seen anything like it.
That simple act gone haywire -- Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin attempting to throw the ball back to his pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, only to strike the hand of Rangers batter Shin-Soo Choo -- produced instant chaos and controversy, while a citizenry that universally scores high marks for civility nearly lost its collective mind.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's take you step by step through an inning that you may have watched in real time, will watch again in highlights, and will almost certainly, if you are a fan of the Blue Jays or Rangers, replay over and over again in your head, but will still need a translation of what you witnessed.
Top of the seventh: Rangers 2, Blue Jays 2. The prologue: The Jays, who had lost the first two games at home and had held a lead for a total of only three innings in the three games on this side of the border, had just tied the score in the bottom of the sixth on a monster home run by Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays' DH had walked five times in the series, including his first two plate appearances Wednesday, but jumped on the first pitch he saw from Cole Hamels in the sixth.
"I definitely missed my spot,'' Hamels said. "He's a tough guy to pitch to sometimes. Trying to understand his game plan, he had quite a few walks in this series. Not really knowing what he was looking for and trying not to throw it in that spot, unfortunately I threw the wrong pitch.
"I guess that's where he was looking, middle in. I think that's why I tried to avoid it all series. It was a pitch that cut on me instead of sinking.''
Encarnacion's home run, by the way, carried 457 feet, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information, making it the longest home run of the postseason.
And then it begins.
The top of the seventh began with a new pitcher on the mound for Toronto, the 23-year-old Aaron Sanchez replacing the 24-year-old Marcus Stroman, who was touched for a run in the first, gave up a home run to Shin-Soo Choo in the third and was spared a third run when second baseman Ryan Goins effortlessly handled a smash by Elvis Andrus (remember that name) to strand Josh Hamilton at second, ending the sixth.
Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor, who would score a team-leading seven runs in the series, led off the seventh with a line single to left. He was bunted to second by Chris Gimenez and took third on a splendid play by third baseman Josh Donaldson, who barehanded Delino DeShields's slow roller and threw him out by a half-step.
Insanity, Take 1
Odor was 90 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run with Choo coming to the plate. Choo fouled off a couple of 98 mph heaters from Sanchez, sandwiched around a fastball that missed for a ball, then took ball two. Martin took the ball out of his glove and flipped it back toward the mound, except it never got there. In transit, it struck Choo, appearing to hit his hand, and rolled down the third-base line. Odor scored and plate umpire Dale Scott waved off the run when he called timeout, but then reversed himself after a lengthy review, prompting a shower of beer and trash from the stands while causing the Blue Jays to play the rest of the game under protest.
Batter Choo: "It hit me in the hand. Never been in a play like that. Never [seen a play] like that.''
Know the rule? "No. That's why I asked [manager Jeff] Banister.''
Catcher Martin: "First time I've ever been involved in a play like that in my life. I wasn't really sure what the rule was. I think if he's in the box, there's nothing wrong. If he's outside the box, then he's out. He was inside the box.
"I heard the umpire [call it dead]. But then they got together and went over the rule, and I'm sure they got it right. You have like eight brains out there. You're going to get it right.''
Crew chief Scott to a pool reporter: "That was my mistake. I was mixing up two rules and I called time, but then it started clicking. I went wait a minute, wait a minute, there's no intent on the hitter. He's in the box, the bat's in the box.''
Which brings us to MLB Rule 6.03 (a) (3), which governs these things. The pertinent section reads:
"If the batter is standing in the batter's box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher's throw back to the pitcher, and, in the umpire's judgment, there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, the ball is alive and in play.''
The run stood up. Odor scored. Martin was charged with an error.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: "You didn't want something like that to be the deciding run in a game of this magnitude, that was my belief.''
Rangers manager Jeff Banister: "How about my guy [Odor] being heads-up and scoring on that play and not keeping his head down, because that's who we are.''
Gibbon's sentiment was shared by nearly 50,000 inflamed Canadians who saw their dream of advancing toward the World Series for the first time in 23 years evaporating from the most freakish of plays, according to a rule book as arcane as the U.S. tax code.
Hamels was one of the few players who said he had experience with the play.
Hamels: "I've seen it happen. I know at this level it's going to be looked at a little bit more, but it's kind of what happens sometimes. You have to make the best of every throw, even if it's from the pitcher or the catcher's side. It just happens. I think that's dumb luck. That's probably something you won't see for a while, especially in this type of game, but you have to take it.
"I think it's unfortunate. We all are very well-educated in baseball. We kind of knew what was going on. But sometimes the fans, they want what they want, and I feel bad for that sort of situation. Kind of crazy, but it happens.''
Play was interrupted while the grounds crew cleared the field of debris. The mayor of Toronto, John Tory, tweeted out an appeal for calm. His predecessor, Rob Ford, whose outrageous behavior made him a staple of late-night comedy shows stateside, had been sitting in a front-row seat earlier in the game, but he was not spotted during the craziness, which may have been a first for Hizzoner. Choo struck out, ending the top of the seventh, but the Rangers, 1-7 in elimination games, were nine outs away from advancing.
Bottom of the seventh: Rangers 3, Blue Jays 2. The unraveling.
Martin, a Canadian by birth, led off the bottom of the seventh with a ground ball to short. The normally sure-handed Elvis Andrus glided in front, only to have the ball skip off his glove. E-6. The next batter, Kevin Pillar, hit a grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who went to second for a force but bounced his throw to Andrus. Safe. E-3. "I never had a grip,'' Moreland said. Gibbons sends in a pinch runner, Dalton Pompey, for Martin.
Goins, the ninth batter in the Jays' order and hitless in the series, lays down a bunt that is expertly fielded by a charging third baseman Adrian Beltre, who flips the ball to Andrus covering third for a force. Except Andrus drops the ball.
Three plays. Three errors, one on a fielding play, one on a throw, one on a missed catch. Karmic payback, or so it seemed, judging by the decibel level of a crowd further whipped into frenzy.
Andrus: "The toughest time in my career right now. I can make those plays 100 times for sure. There's a lot of pain right now. I feel like I let down my team, my city, and it hurts.''
Ben Revere grounded out to Moreland, who threw home for the force and the inning's first out. But the bases remained loaded, and the putative MVP Josh Donaldson was at the plate, but not before a pitching change as Banister summoned Sam Dyson from the bullpen. Donaldson, hitless in his first three at-bats, hit a ball in the air but not high enough to be called an infield fly, which would have meant an automatic out. Odor drifted back for what looked like an easy catch, but he mistimed his leap, the ball fell in, and Pillar raced home with the tying run.
Insanity, Take 2
Now, Bautista, who had homered in a Game 1 loss, had done little since. That changed with one mighty swing, the ball hurtling 452 feet into the left-field seats. Delirium. Bautista stood transfixed at the plate, in momentary awe of the Magnitude of Me, then launched his bat skyward, so high it became a point of debate which would land first, bat or ball.
Bautista: "I can't really remember what was going through my mind, to be quite honest with you. After I made contact, I just, you know, I didn't plan anything that I did and so I still don't even know how I did it. I just enjoyed the moment, rounded the bases, and got to the dugout.''
Dyson approached Encarnacion, who had his back to the mound, his arms lifted to the crowd, appealing for them to stop throwing any more objects on the field. Dyson came with a message for the Jays' slugger.
Dyson: "I told Edwin, this can't happen. It needs to stop. He was just telling me he hit a home run, or whatever. After that I didn't pay attention to what he was saying.
"If they want to act like that, whatever. Just have to deal with it. Honestly, I didn't even see it until it was on [the video scoreboard]. That's why it took me a little while to react. Obviously, he hit it pretty hard. So I turned around and saw the replay. That's not acceptable, regardless of what level you're at. I didn't even look at the bat. I just saw him stand there.
"I think if you watch his replays throughout the year, I think you'll understand.''
The benches cleared, and more debris was hurled, before order was restored.
Bautista, asked if he had a reaction to Dyson's criticism, said, "No."
Hamels: "It's tough. I guess it's hard to be politically correct. I think you just want to be able to play the game the right way. You've got a lot of kids that are watching. You just want to be a ballplayer. I think there's a certain amount of respect that you have to have. We understand there's a huge level of excitement when things go your way, and sometimes that can kind of, in the moments you forget about it. I can't answer for [Bautista] what his mindset was, but it's tough to see. A lot of us in this room, I don't think we carry ourselves that way in a sense. When you have the most excitement, and you've just done something big, you don't know how you're going to act sometimes.''
Martin: "I don't blame Dyson for being unhappy with that. I don't think [Bautista] was purposely trying to make [Dyson] feel worse or feel anything. I think it was just instinctual. He just let the emotions go, and he let it out.
"As we're talking, I'm watching it on the replay. It was an epic home run, and it was an epic bat flip.''
Dyson made a detour before returning to the dugout and touched Tulowitzki on the backside. Tulowitzki took offense, words were exchanged, third baseman Adrian Beltre tried to play peacekeeper and the benches emptied again.
Dyson: "I didn't say a word to him. I just tapped him, on the butt. That was it. That was just a nice gesture on my part, that's what I thought. He took it another way. I don't know what to say about that. Maybe I shouldn't have done it on my part, but it wasn't anything to disgrace him, or upset him.''
Tulowitzki: "There was definitely something said. It's over with now. We won the game. Still, it was a foul ball, and there shouldn't be any contact made. We were going back and forth the whole time. He gave up the home run, then to walk over there and touch someone, I don't think that's the right time.''
The inning began at 6:13 p.m. It ended at 7:06. Fifty-three minutes that altered the destiny of two teams. The Jays advance to the American League Championship Series against the Royals. The Rangers go home. Rangers third baseman Beltre told reporters he was having trouble processing it all. Give us a few years. We may one day understand what we saw.