Three not-so-quick thoughts on the Blue Jays' crazy 6–3 comeback victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at the Rogers Centre in Toronto:
1. Seventh is wild
One of the most bizarre and controversial innings in postseason history started with the game tied 2–2, went to the bottom half with Texas ahead 3–2 and ended with the Blue Jays holding a 6–3 lead they would not relinquish. The 53-minute drama started when the Rangers scored the tie-breaking run on a play that led to an 18-minute extended argument over the rule book and a protest. They then gave the lead away via three errors and a monster three-run homer by Jose Bautista that swung the game in Toronto’s favor. Operas have been written about less.
The chaos started with the Rangers' Rougned Odor on third base and two out. Odor had greeted reliever Aaron Sanchez with a single, taken second on a sacrifice and advanced to third on a groundout. With batter Shin-Soo Choo adjusting his elbow pad after taking ball two, catcher Russell Martin's throw back to Sanchez deflected off the bat of Choo, and Odor scampered home. Confusion reigned during the lengthy delay. The six umpires conferenced not once but twice, and the play was reviewed for a rules check, specifically as to whether Choo interfered with the throw and whether or not the ball should have been ruled alive or dead.
As disgruntled Toronto fans threw debris onto the field, the umpires allowed Odor’s run to stand, invoking Rule 6.03 (a): “A batter is out for illegal action when: He interferes with the catcher's fielding or throwing by making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play at home base.” Umpires and replay officials ruled that Choo was in the batter's box legally, so the ball hit the bat without intent, and was thus a live ball, so Odor's run counted. At that point Jays manager John Gibbons declared that the Blue Jays were playing the remainder of the game under protest, with home plate umpire Dale Scott signaling up to the official scorer in the press box by drawing an exaggerated “P” in the air (yes, that’s really how it’s done).
That protest was rendered moot because of the Blue Jays’ comeback against Cole Hamels, abetted by the Rangers’ complete defensive collapse. Hamels, who began his half of the seventh having thrown 95 pitches, induced Martin to ground to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who bobbled the ball for an error. Then Kevin Pillar hit a potential double-play grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland, whose low throw to Andrus at second was dropped, so Martin was safe. At that point, Gibbons replaced Martin with pinch-runner Dalton Pompey, who was safe at third when Andrus dropped another throw, this one from third baseman Adrian Beltre after fielding Ryan Goins’s bunt; this time, the error was on Andrus. Pompey was forced out at home plate when Moreland speared Ben Revere's one-hopper and threw home, but his takeout slide into catcher Chris Gimenez led to a replay review as to whether he had interfered with a potential double play. With the aid of officials in New York, the umpires ruled that he had not.
That was it for Hamels. On came Sam Dyson to face Josh Donaldson with the bases loaded. Donaldson hit a bloop just over the head of Odor at second base. Pillar scored the tying run, but Odor recovered to get a force out. Up came Bautista, who obliterated a 97 mph inside fastball 431 feet to left-centerfield, then flipped his bat emphatically:
After the home run, both benches cleared, apparently over words between Dyson and Bautista, and fans were ejected for throwing more debris onto the field, resulting in another delay. After Troy Tulowitzki popped out to end the inning, the benches cleared again when Dyson tapped Tulowitzki on the butt with his glove as he walked by, a seemingly innocuous gesture that the shortstop took issue with given how high tensions were running in the heat of battle.
2. Marcus Stroman delivered
Gibbons' decision to use David Price out of the bullpen for 50 pitches in Game 4 and start Stroman for Game 5 loomed large coming into the game, but Stroman pitched well enough to justify the decision. Though Delino Deshields' Jr.'s game-opening double led to a run and Choo's third-inning homer put the Rangers up 2–0, Stroman held the line there, allowing only two hits in his final three innings: Gimenez's infield single to start the fifth and Josh Hamilton's two-out double in the sixth. He notched consecutive swinging strikeouts of Choo, Prince Fielder and Beltre to end the fifth and start the sixth, walked just one batter and departed after 98 pitches.
Price fueled the Jays' 39–15 record in August and September, won the AL ERA title and may have sewn up his second Cy Young Award en route to a massive free agent payday, but one can only infer from his performance and usage at the end of the season that something is amiss. After his seven shutout innings against the Yankees on Sept. 21, he pitched a total of 15 innings and allowed 12 runs (11 earned) over a 23-day span. In isolation, his seven-inning, five-run performance in Game 1 of the Division Series could be chalked up to the rust produced by an 11-day layoff, but as part of a larger tableau that included mop-up work protecting a six-run lead in Game 4, and unavailability in Game 5, it's enough to wonder if there is a physical issue at play, which will have to be considered as the ALCS begins on Friday.
3. The Rangers lost this series, but overachieved
On the heels of a 67–95 season that was marked by a slew of injuries—a trend that showed no signs of abating in the spring when ace Yu Darvish was lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery, and former top prospect Jurickson Profar went down for the second straight year due to a shoulder injury—nobody saw the Rangers coming. Not a single expert at Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Fox Sports or CBS picked them to win the AL West or secure a wild-card spot during the annual round of preseason predictions, yet they overcame a 42–46 first half and blew past the Astros in September thanks to significant improvements on both sides of the ball. Hats off both to general manager Jon Daniels, who made a big splash by dealing for Hamels, and relievers Dyson and Jake Diekman, and to first-year manager Jeff Banister, who led a banged-up team back to the postseason. Once there, this resilient, overachieving squad pushed the heavily-favored Blue Jays to the brink of elimination before bowing out, but it's unlikely they'll sneak up on anyone in 2016.