Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rangers v Blue Jays: The Magnificent Seventh

I think it's pretty safe to say that the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers in Rogers Centre in Toronto will go down as one of the wildest, craziest, most obscure and any other word you can find in a thesaurus in the history of baseball.

Now, I know much will be made of the collapse of the Rangers defense in the bottom of the 7th that allowed the Blue Jays to load the bases. Poor Elvis Andrus  (who botched three plays but was only credited with two errors) will need to find a new team, just as Mitch Williams needed to follow Game 6 of the Blue Jays' 1993 World Series victory. However, I don't think Andrus should receive as much of the blame as he will during the off-season.

Instead, I would look to Rangers manager Jeff Banister.

That's right. You see, after Russell Martin's return throw to Aaron Sanchez bounced off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo and base runner Rougned Odor scored, the home plate umpire called the play dead. Credit must be given to Odor who not only played a terrific series but also committed an excellent heads up play by running home (keep an eye on him in coming years). He crossed the plate even after the umpire called the play dead and returned Odor to third base, a call that was wrong. Banister ran out of the dugout to challenge the call, which was overturned after a conference between the six umpires under the Unintentional Interference Rule. Odor scored, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead an elimination game and Rogers Centre erupted in fury.

I dare not defend the crowd in Toronto for their behavior. They acted very poorly. It is understandable that they be upset. After, it's the Blue Jays' first postseason appearance since 1993 and there was already plenty of angst regarding some of the umpiring in Game 2 on Friday afternoon. A too-close-to-call play at second base (again involving Odor) on the 14th inning was upheld in the Rangers favor resulting in a Rangers victory, in addition to an inconsistent strike zone which resulted in a higher number of strike three calls against the Blue Jays than is normal. So the umpires were already not popular in Toronto. Still, though the outcome was undesirable, the call was correct. But, it gave the Blue Jays the much-needed spark they'd been lacking the entire game.

Had Banister not challenged the call, it's likely that it would've been Texas who felt robbed. They probably would've picked up an extra spark and scored the go-ahead run in the 8th or 9th innings. Considering the Blue Jays were struggling against Cole Hammels  (they were lucky to score the 2 runs that they did, in my opinion), they probably wouldn't have overcome the deficit. Instead, it would be Texas gearing up for the ALCS in Kansas City on Friday night and not the Blue Jays.

But having already felt robbed of Game 2, the Blue Jays and their fans would not be robbed of Game 5 and have their first postseason since 1993 robbed of them by judgment calls by the umpires. When the Jays came to bat in the bottom of 7th, down by one, they came out swinging like they hadn't done the entire game. Yes, Andrus' numerous errors helped, but it's probable that with the Triple Threat of Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion coming up somewhere in the 8th and 9th, the Jays may have had the necessary spark to come back and win. Bautista monster home run is evidence enough of the energy that the Blue Jays possessed, an energy they would never have gotten had it not been for the weirdest yet most simple play in the top half of the inning.

Though Texas benefited in the short term, by the end of the 53-minute Magnificent Seventh Inning, Banister's decision benefited the Toronto Blue Jays. He may have been correct, but that doesn't mean it was the best decision.

Nonetheless,  Gane 5 of the ALDS between the Jays and the Rangers was easily the most tense, most exciting games of baseball I've watches since 1993. Watching the Blue Jays play the best they have in decades has brought back memories of my childhood that are filled with joy. I'm still holding our for the perfect World Series between the Jays and the Cubs, the only team I wouldn't mind seeing defeat Toronto. For now, I look forward to the ALCS against the Royals in a rematch of the 1985 series where Kansas City came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to eliminate the Jays and ultimately go on to win the World Series.

As for things with Texas, a series that was filled with emotion and is still being talked about thanks to Jose Bautista's home run and bat flip, I'd like to paraphrase Casablanca: I have the feeling this is the start of a beautiful rivalry.

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