Blue Jays, Rangers bring hard feelings into ALDS rematch
Bautista's bat flip, Odor's punch set tone for Thursday's series opener
There was Jose Bautista's emphatic bat flip after his tie-breaking homer in the American League Division Series-clinching game last October, and then Rougned Odor's punch in May that ignited a bench-clearing brawl the last time the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays played.
Now the rematch begins in Game 1 (Thursday 4:30 p.m. ET) of another ALDS between teams that clearly have some bad blood between them.
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"I don't think it's fabricated," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said Wednesday.
"We knew it was going to happen," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said of facing Toronto again. "That's baseball."
On May 15 in Texas, Rangers' second baseman Odor punched Bautista. The scuffle began after Bautista, on base after getting hit in the ribs by a pitch, made a late and hard slide trying to break up a double play at the end of a contentious series.
"It's unfortunate that it got out of hand last time, but it did, so it's in the past and hopefully stays there," Bautista said. "I'm not looking for revenge, I'm looking to win ball games. That's entirely what my focus is on, and hopefully I get to keep it there."
With all that recent history, close attention will be paid to every inside fastball, hard slide or any emotional outburst.
Focused on winning
But these are also two teams with much more on the line than retribution after falling short of their World Series goal last year, and now with another chance.
"Games are too important. I wouldn't expect anything," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But nobody seems to want to let it go...Every time you turn on the TV, it's a replay after replay after replay. But too much [is] at stake. Two great ball clubs, two very competitive ball clubs, two emotional ball clubs. But in no way I would expect anything like that."
However, there could be some edgy moments when both teams are on the field with the post-season adrenaline flowing.
"I think it's going to bring a lot more excitement to the games," Andrus said. "It's easy right now to say nothing's going to happen or might happen. But when you're out there and playing, and all the emotion any inning can bring, anything can happen."
Odor, who was playing ping-pong when the Rangers clubhouse was first open to reporters Wednesday, repeatedly said that he was focused on helping his team win the series. He said the Rangers would play like they have all year in winning an AL-high 95 games.
When asked how much what happened in May would be a distraction, Odor responded, "I think that's over already. I don't worry about that."
Asked if that was the best punch he had ever thrown, he said, "I don't worry about that."
And, yes, Bautista has looked forward to being back in Texas, but not for the reasons many people would expect.
"In this situation, yeah," Bautista said of the playoffs. "Other than that, I haven't really given it much thought."
Osuna's availability uncertain
Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna left the AL wild-card game with a sore shoulder. Gibbons said Osuna was feeling better Wednesday, but the manager wasn't sure about the 21-year-old right-hander's availability for ALDS Game 1.
"We don't think it's a big deal but it's probably wise to be a little cautious this time of year," Gibbons said.