Bad blood as Rangers, Jays square off for Game 1
It's on. Bat flips and fat lips serve as the background of the American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. Game 1 of the best-of-5 is Thursday afternoon at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
The Rangers and Blue Jays are meeting in the postseason for the second consecutive year. Toronto prevailed in a testy five-game ALDS in 2015 by winning the last three games, including 6-3 in the finale at Rogers Centre punctuated by Jose Bautista's three-run home run off Sam Dyson and subsequent bat flip.
Revenge has to be on the Rangers' minds, even as they rightly insist much more is at stake.
"Playing those guys again and beating them would be sweet," Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus said, according to MLB.com. "But in the end, we're looking at the big picture. It's not about beating one guy in one series. It's about getting to the World Series and winning it all."
One of those guys is Bautista, who's become a wanted man in Texas.
"We just have to keep our emotions in check and just go down there and win some ballgames and play good baseball," Bautista said, via MLB.com. "That's what we're capable of doing, and that's what we tried to do last year. That's what we did this year, except some things transpired that made us get away from that. Hopefully that doesn't happen again."
The roles are somewhat reversed with Texas owning home-field advantage by finishing with the best record in the American League. The Rangers are also well-rested having locked up their playoff position early and spending the last week of the regular season on cruise control.
Toronto didn't clinch a Wild Card spot until the last series and needed 11 innings to beat Baltimore 5-2 Tuesday night. Edwin Encarnacion provided the dramatics this time with a three-run homer to end it before another frenzied Canadian crowd.
There's plenty of bad blood between the clubs. The playoffs last year lit the pot, with tempers boiling over in May in Arlington when Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor decked Bautista with an overhand right to the jaw.
Bautista, hit by a pitch from Matt Bush, tried to break up a double-play with overly-aggressive slide into Odor. When Bautista rose to confront Odor, he was shoved in the chest before a punch sent Bautista's sunglasses flying.
The benches cleared. Odor was suspended for seven games, while Bautista received a one-game ban. A number of players on both sides with also disciplined.
"We just have to win, obviously there's bad blood there," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said, via MLB.com. "The last time we were there, it ended the way it ended, but we have to move on from that. We have to take care of business. It's about getting W's."
Rangers manager Jeff Banister agreed.
"I don't get caught up in (revenge)," he said. "I don't get to choose who we play. They have fought hard to get to where they are. They'll be a hot club, and they'll be ready to play."
Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32 ERA) will get the Game 1 start for the Rangers, with Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) going for the Blue Jays.
Game 2 is Friday afternoon in Arlington before the series heads north of the border. Game 3 is Sunday, with a fourth game Monday if necessary. Game 5 would be Oct. 12 back at Globe Life Park.