You wanted him, Rangers fans. Now you’ve got him.
Jose Bautista, aka Joey Bats, Toronto’s bountifully bearded slugger, he who giveth The Flip and taketh The Punch, is on his way back to Texas with his wild-card-winning Blue Jays to rekindle a postseason fire with the American League West champion Texas Rangers.
Cue the Rocky theme and “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
This AL Division Series begins at 3:38 p.m. Thursday at Globe Life Park. The rematch gives the Rangers a chance to settle the score after last year’s unthinkable Game 5 unraveling under a Rogers Centre roof that reverberated with roars from a riotous crowd that bombarded the field with cans and bottles and anything within arm’s reach amid one of the most emotionally charged sequences in postseason history.
Bautista’s epic three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning provided the difference. His equally epic flip of his bat in the direction of the Rangers dugout, frozen in time on Bautista’s Twitter page, has since placed him in the cross hairs of North Texas baseball fans.
Then in May at Globe Life Park, after Bautista slid hard into the Rangers’ Rougned Odor, the feisty second baseman upped the ante by landing a single right cross on Bautista’s black-cushioned chops, knocking him on his heels.
A photo of The Punch added insult to injury.
And so here we are, folks, October baseball once again, Blue Jays and Rangers. It’s the most unexpected bad-blood rivalry in all of baseball. And it is very, very real.
‘Yes, I hate Bautista’
“The current rivalry with the Blue Jays is more intense than any rivalry the Rangers have had in my time — nothing is even remotely close,” is how Hall of Fame Rangers announcer Eric Nadel called it in an email just before a Bautista bomb gave the Jays a 1-0 lead over Baltimore in Tuesday’s wild-card showdown.
This, mind you, is Nadel’s 38th year broadcasting Rangers games.
“A lot of people will need Xanax before Game 1,” Nadel said. “And I may be one of them.”
As for Bautista, Rangers fans have certainly identified villains in the past — Alex Rodriguez after his me and “24 kids” comment on his way out of town, David Freese and even Lance Berkman for their 2011 World Series daggers with the Cardinals — but perhaps no player has climbed that ladder as quickly as Mr. Bautista.
“Nothing compared to Bautista,” Nadel said. “He could have defused the whole thing in the offseason by just saying, ‘I didn’t mean for the bat to go to the Rangers dugout, that was not my intention. I am sorry if it appeared I was taunting the Rangers.’
“He chose not to do that.”
“Yes, I hate Bautista,” said Ben Rogers, co-host of The Ben and Skin Show on 105.3 FM The Fan. “So cocky. So arrogant. Zero humility. … Wait, are you recording this? Um, I’m a professional, I’m unbiased. He seems swell.”
Swell isn’t exactly the word players around the league use for Bautista. Let’s just say he’s not exactly one to garner votes from his peers as baseball’s most popular guy. Many, in fact, probably had visions a time or two of doing exactly what Odor did. Rangers fans loved it, instantly elevating their young second baseman to hero status alongside the legendary, stoic sheriff, Nolan Ryan.
‘You need a villain, right?’
Meanwhile, like Bautista here, Odor, already an irritant of Toronto sports fans, rose to the top of the sports enemy list up there.
“You need a villain, right?” said Callum Woods, 29, co-owner of The Dock Ellis sports bar in Toronto. “There’s not going to be much love for him when Odor comes up.”
Depending on what transpires over the next week in this series, Bautista could elevate his status from not just No. 1 sports enemy of Rangers fans, but to that of king of the despised for all of DFW.
It’s a list that includes the aforementioned A-Rod, but also and forever Dwyane Wade, plus Terrell Owens, Robin Ventura and recent addition DeAndre Jordan and old-school stalwarts like Joe Theismann.
Rogers has Bautista and the Blue Jays at No. 2 on his personal sports hate list, behind the Philadelphia Eagles. ESPN’s Mike Peasley puts Bautista at No. 2 behind Wade, the Miami Heat star whose red-carpet walk to the free throw line in the 2006 Finals helped dump the Dallas Mavericks, while solidifying his No. 1 spot by mock-coughing at an ill Dirk Nowitzki.
“This is going to be a highly emotional series,” said Peasley, longtime host of the Rangers pre- and post-game shows on 103.3 FM ESPN. “Bautista will get booed by the Rangers fans, but that will pale in comparison to what’s in store for Rougned Odor when the series moves to Toronto for Game 3. Sports hate is always a good thing, but I think when it comes to Bautista, it goes even deeper than that. The same for Blue Jays fans with Odor.
“Can’t wait for this series.”