Rays play with fire against Jose Bautista and get burned

Nick Ashbourne
Jose Bautista was provoked by a pitch thrown behind him early and then led the Blue Jays to their first series win of the year on Sunday. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

There’s a common belief about Jose Bautista that he’s a little bit like the Hulk – when he’s angry, he becomes far more powerful.

It’s something that you’ll never be able to prove scientifically, but whether it’s falsehood or fact it’s slipped into the realm of legend. At this point, no matter what your belief on the matter is, you might not want to make Jose angry – you know, just in case.

Empirical or not, it’s a theory that Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons certainly buys into.

“I believe in that. I’ve been around Jose awhile now, and he’s got that flare for the dramatic,” he said. “I’ve also seen him have balls thrown at him, hit him, or thrown behind him, and he answers with the big home run.”

On Sunday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays took their chances, and found themselves on the wrong side of a 3-1 battle with the Blue Jays.

In the first inning, Rays starter Chris Archer threw behind the Blue Jays’ right fielder, which prompted this unambiguous response:

Courtesy: Sportsnet

The warning shot was presumed to come in response to Joe Biagini hitting Steven Souza on Saturday, a pitch that was unintentional and triggered remorse from the reliever following the game. Gibbons, for one, was not happy about it, and hopes to see Archer disciplined for the play.

“I would imagine the league would step up like they do most of the time time,” he said. “I’d be disappointed if the didn’t. You’ve got to maintain that – whatever the word is – continuity.”

Bautista, on the other hand, was as non-committal verbally as he was expressive with his body language. Asked if he thought the pitch was intentional, all he offered postgame was a coy, “I don’t know.”

Early on, Archer and the Rays’ decision to poke the proverbial bear didn’t seem to have consequences. The right-hander cruised through the Blue Jays lineup most of the day, pitching seven almost spotless innings, and even striking out Bautista in his next at-bat. The reckoning came in the eighth, however, when the game was on the line and none other than No. 19 stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays found themselves down 1-0 after the Rays scratched across a run on a Daniel Robertson squeeze bunt. After walking Darwin Barney, Archer exited the game following a sharply hit ball off a hanging slider by Kevin Pillar that indicated 112 pitches were just about enough from him.

Alex Colome then took the mound to face Bautista, who promptly took two cutters outside he didn’t like and then smashed a third he fancied. The slugger got all of the hanging pitch and took it to the wall in left field where it eluded the glove of Corey Dickerson for his 1,000th hit as a Blue Jay.

“I was looking for something to hit, knowing that they had first base open. I was trying to be more picky than usual,” he said. “He left one up in the strike zone and I was able to put a good swing on it. Obviously at that moment it was a huge hit.”

Of course, the hit didn’t clinch a win, but it likely prevented a loss, and Bautista later came around on a single from Russell Martin to touch the plate for the winning tally.

The other heroes on the day were the much-maligned Blue Jays relievers. Things did not look good when Aaron Sanchez was lifted after just one inning with a nail issue on his right hand, leaving the bullpen with a Herculean task on their plates. After Joe Biagini dazzled in two innings yesterday, the Blue Jays asked their relief corps – minus its best multi-inning weapon – to out-duel Archer.

That’s exactly what they did, with eight innings of one-run ball keyed by Ryan Tepera’s career-high 3.1 frames of scoreless ball beginning in the second inning. The hard-throwing righty struck out five and allowed just one base runner, and kept the Blue Jays in the game while Archer kept the club’s lineup sedated.

“What a fun game. Just going out there was kind of an unreal feeling,” Tepera said of the outing. “It was just different. I just followed Russ and stayed aggressive.”

Along with Tepera, the Blue Jays got scoreless contributions from Aaron Loup, Dominic Leone, J.P. Howell and Roberto Osuna. Even Joe Smith, who gave up the run, only did so on a bunt. It was a stellar performance easily lost amid Bautista’s theatrics.

Now, with April drawing to a close, the Blue Jays have their first series win, their first consecutive victories and get to hit the road with a little momentum. If one of the lineup lynchpins had a bit of a fire lit underneath him, they’ll definitely take that too.