TOP OF THE EIGHTH: RANGERS 7 – 6 BLUE JAYS
The fans at Globe Life Park are chanting USA! USA! USA!! Jose Bautista is being hugged from behind, for over five minutes, by Adrian Beltre. The dugouts are empty. The bullpens are empty. Kevin Pillar is running around like a bull in a stampede.
It was the biggest inning all week, and it was scoreless.
It ended with a brawl, exploded with a punch, kicked off with a slide and a hit-by-pitch.
But about a half hour earlier, when the 8th inning in Arlington began, for just a brief, sun-shining moment of baseball fandom, it was family, fun, Sunday afternoon at the ballpark.
The post-commercial-break TV coverage cuts to a Texas family now living in Alaska, who’ve brought their baby daughter to her first Rangers game. It’s warm outside, the crowd’s all red-and-blue, the Rangers have just staged a big comeback, things are looking good. Calm. Happy.
And in one second we switch from the family-friendly into the violent, the heart-warming into the criminal, the all-smiles into the Canada-vs-USA, the first step toward a brawl of hilarious, headline-making proportions.
From No.1 overall pick to prison to making his big league debut.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) May 14, 2016
Matt Bush—former first-overall MLB draft pick, former inmate in Florida’s Charlotte County Jail, for three-and-a-half years—whips a fastball into Jose Bautista’s side, maybe the most intentional-looking beaning I’ve seen.
Bautista drops the bat, rips off his batting gloves, cursing out at the mound. The Texas fans crane their necks for a clear view, grinning, then taunting, as Bautista now struts to first, more ticked off with each step. They all rise, applauding, the final delayed revenge for a bat-flip taken personally some seven months ago, across the border to the north.
It’s like the final plot point to a still-going inning, whose trickle-down effects have continued, seven months later.
The ballpark is blue and red on the field, blue and red in every section of stands, both colors of Rangers jerseys—like a hotly contested electoral map, two countries at war.
3-0 count to Edwin Encarnacion. Then it’s 3-2. The crowd electric. A kid holds up his Rangers hat straight in the air, jumping on tip-toes. Encarnacion pops out to Ryan Rua in left-field. The necks and heads of the Texas faithful all turn up together at the fly ball, like spectators at a tennis match.
Matt Bush comes out of the game to a standing ovation, applauding—I’m guessing—his well-placed bullet of revenge. “That’s a Ranger Nation thank you to Matt Bush,” says one of the TV guys.
And, suddenly, for a moment, it’s back to normal. Back to the family-friendly. A little girl smiles into the camera, a box of Cracker Jack in hand, with the broadcast crew promoting the upcoming Rangers beach-towel game.
Jake Diekman comes in from the bullpen to face Justin Smoak. Bautista still on first. And in one moment, we’re back to bedlam. All decency and diplomacy fly out the window, Rougned Odor’s flying fist breaking that window, tossing Bautista’s pride out with it.
Smoak reaches out and slaps a ground ball to third, fielded by Beltre, who throws to Odor at second. And the rest, as they say, is history. Infamy. Disgrace. Entertainment. A brawling, sprawling, snarling battle.
Bautista comes into second-base with a hard, exaggerated slide—clearly illegal per the new “Utley rule”—nearly decking Odor, who lithely jumps out of the way, throwing wide to first.
And before the camera can quite catch it, all we see is a dugout emptying. The Rangers’ catcher, who’d been backing up the throw to first, sprinting to second base. Mitch Moreland sprinting the same way. Justin Smoak, safe and jogging back to the base, now joins in the stampede. The first-base coach, the third-base coach, Nomar Mazara in from right-field.
Kevin Pillar comes in like a one-man man wrecking crew, storming out from the Jays’ dugout, pushing past bodies to get to the epicenter. Moreland throws a headlock his way.
And Odor, at the center of it all, with a fist flying on a straight line for Bautista’s cheek, saying: Take a look at these hands!!
A push. A punch. Another punch. And a run-down, a beat-down, with Bautista clutching his cheek and stumbling away.
Rougned Odor with the KNOCK OUT punch on Joey Bats. OMG!!!https://t.co/JERtZcz64m
— MLB Memes (@MLBMeme) May 15, 2016
ICYMI: Rougned Odor was suspended 8 games for punching Jose Bautista. https://t.co/4tuKpds9eR
— 120 Sports (@120Sports) May 18, 2016
“You don’t normally see that kind of fight in a major-league ball game,” says one of the TV guys, “but you did today.”
The umpiring crew surveys the scene like a pack of vultures, waiting to dole out suspensions, nothing to be done in the moment but watch, circle around, prepare for the aftermath.
Beltre grabs Bautista in a full-nelson grab, holding him back, as he’s outnumbered 5-to-1 and Odor scampers away for the moment. His grip on Bautista loosens a bit, but doesn’t let go—holding on from behind like an awkward prom date. What do two ballplayers say to each other in a position like that?
The crowd chimes in: “Let’s goooo Ran-gers!!” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap…
Globe Life Park becomes an endless drone of whistles, boos, chants, banter, taunts—an electric response to the most entertaining team in baseball this year.
After some minutes, the scrum of players stays tight, full, but the fighting dies down. Like a mosh pit after the arena speakers have been turned off, the band long since gone, but the adrenaline still in the system.
“He picked the wrong guy to slide into second base hard on…”
One of the umps puts a stiff-arm on Encarnacion’s chest. Jay’s manager John Gibbons pats Bautista on the back heartily.
Odor turns calm, but still defiant.
Another of the umps grabs manager Jeff Banister, physically pushing him back to the dugout. He storms back into the clubhouse, throwing both arms up in incensed victory, whipping up the fans into frenzy. The mood’s at the ballpark is neither angry or celebratory, but entertained, proud, surprised, playing living-it-up witnesses to a baseball phenomenon so rarely seen.
The umps get together and confer, counting on their fingers the amount of ejections they’ll have to give out, and to whom. One of them whips out a red pen and a pad, like it’s mid-game decision-making time in a game of Clue.
The double-play is ruled, per the new rule penalty. End of the inning. No score. Rangers still up 7-6. Rougned Odor’s slugging percentage, let’s just say, shot up a whole lot on Sunday afternoon.
We won’t see these teams meet again until October, if that. But what we’ve got here is a May classic, Rangers on top. A new alcholic drink, named after Odor: Rougie’s Red Punch.
And the first, and maybe the only time, a season’s biggest inning will be scoreless.