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October Baseball is Unifying Canadians

by Nicholas Di Giovanni


October 22, 2015 | Sports


Jose Bautista bat flip. Getty Images

The moment the ball left the bat and the subsequent explosion ignited through the Rogers Center, an earthquake of jumping fans rippled through the country.

Canadians came together over Jose Bautista`s game-winning three-run home run in game five of the ALDS, last Wednesday night. The emotionally charged seventh inning left no doubt in our minds that October baseball is fun.

Anyone who followed the Toronto Blue Jays 2015 season knows that they are one good ball club. With a 50-50 record at the All-Star break on July 26, the future of the team looked bleak, with the possibility of another losing season ahead of them. That`s when everything changed.

General manager Alex Anthopolous, who started his career in baseball management as a volunteer stat-keeper for the Montreal Expos, acquired All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki and David Price in separate trades on July 28 and July 30. Veteran relievers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins were also added to the team, along with the seasoned outfielder and lead-off man, Ben Revere. Anthopolous was in it to win and win it they did.

Toronto started August with an 11-game win streak and would finish the month with a 21-6 record. They rolled right through September in dominating fashion with an 18-9 record. Their lead kept growing on top of the AL East above the New York Yankees and after two separate three-game sweeps of the Yankees in the Bronx, the Blue Jays won the division with a six-game lead over the Bronx Bombers, claiming their first division title since 1993.

Then came October. Many Canadians think of October as the time for NHL hockey to return, the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving as the weather turns cooler and the leaves begin to fall. But this year, October is a different time for Canadians, especially for those in Toronto. For the first time all century, October means playoff baseball in Canada.

The Blue Jays opened their run towards the World Series in an ALDS game one at the Rogers Center versus the Texas Rangers. Like every other Toronto team that is surrounded by media hype, they lost 5-3. The following afternoon, the Jays played in a 14-inning thriller only to out-duelled by Rougned Odor, Delino DeShields and the rest of the feisty Texas team.

The controversy of the day came when, in the top of the 14th, Texas catcher Chris Gimenez single to right field, while the baserunner Odor attempted to stretch his lead to third base. After rounding second, Odor retreated to the bag when the right fielder Bautista threw to his second basemen, Ryan Goins. Odor slid into second but his leg bounced off the bag, where he was tagged by Goins. He was initially ruled safe, but upon further review, the video replay clearly showed Odor foot off the bag when Goins is applying the tag.

According to the on-field officials, this evidence was not clear enough to overturn the call, ruling Odor safe at second. He would later score the game-winning run when the next batter, Hanser Alberto singled to center field.

This was the turning point of the series. The Jays were down 2-0 in a best-of-five series, on their way to Texas. Their big bats showed up in games three and four with four homers from Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello and Kevin Pillar. With wins of 5-1 and 8-4 in the Lone Star State, the Blue Birds were once again heading north for a decisive game five.

On a cool Wednesday afternoon in downtown Toronto, nearly 50,000 fans wearing blue and white jammed packed the Rogers Center, hoping to get a glimpse of fantastic playoff baseball.

The action started with the lead-off batter for the Rangers, DeShields, singling and scoring in the first inning. Shin-Soo Choo doubled the lead for Texas in the third from a solo blast. The Blue Jays never backed down as Bautista doubled home Revere later in that inning and Edwin Encarnacion homered in the sixth to even out the game at two heading into the seventh.

With Odor on third and two men out in the top of the seventh, Choo took a ball from relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez. Catch Russell Martin attempted to throw the ball back to his pitcher, only for it to hit Choo’s bat and bounce into the infield. Home plate umpire Dale Scott initially called the play dead as Odor ran home from third, thinking the ball was still live. With the play ruled dead, Sanchez and Martin made no attempt to stop Odor from crossing home, knowing that a run cannot be scored on a dead ball.

However, upon further discussions with his crew members, Scott overturned the call and ruled Odor safe at home, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead. Choo did not interfere with Martin’s throw, meaning the play shouldn’t have been called dead- the umpires got that right. But the officials allowed Odor’s run to count because they assumed he would have scored if the play was correctly called the whole time.

This sent the Blue Jays and their fans into a frenzy- and rightfully so, the umpires literally gave the Rangers a run. The atmosphere was tense inside the stadium- with no way out if the home team was to lose the series on an umpire’s decision.

Martin would get revenge as the first batter in the bottom half of the inning. His ground ball was misplayed by shortstop Elvis Andrus, allowing him to reach first. Pillar, the next batter, would also hit a ground ball to first basemen Mitch Moreland, who ignored to step on first for the easy out and decided to throw it to Andrus for the force at second. The only problem is that Andrus failed to catch that. Two men on off of two errors by Andrus.

Ryan Goins was next up at the dish. He would bunt down the third baseline to the ready Adrian Beltre, who tossed to Andrus at the third base and he would AGAIN misplay the throw. Bases loaded, no men out.

Up next was Revere, whose grounder allowed the first out to be recorded with a force at home but left the bases juiced for Josh Donaldson. The always clutch Donaldson looped a single passed Odor and into the outfield, allowing Pillar to score from third, with Revere tagged out at second.

Runners on the corners. Two men out. Bottom of the 7th, game tied 3-3. Up comes Mr. Everything, Jose Bautista. On a 1-1 count, pitcher Sam Dyson serves up a breaking ball to the inside, which Bautista smashes out of the park. 6-3 Blue Jays. The tension in the stadium transforms into sheer joy and ecstasy. Bautista’s “bat flip heard around the world” was the topper to the cake of raw emotion that the fans experienced in that inning alone.

Bautista’s home run and bat flip was a ‘where we you when’ moment and one of those best moments Canada has ever seen. It doesn’t rank anywhere near Paul Henderson’s 1972 Summit Series winning-goal or Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal in 2010, but in terms of Canadian pro sports teams, this has to be one of the best.

The Blue Jays slogan for the playoffs is “Come Together” and that’s exactly what they have done- Canada has come together. There is only one team playing baseball in Canada and that is the Toronto Blue Jays. They are Canada’s team. Canadians are passionate about sports and Canadians around the country are sharing their passion for the Jays this October.

A unified jump for joy was heard around the Great White North on Wednesday night. As the ball soared through the air towards the second deck, Canadians soared through the air of their living rooms, bars and offices, filled with a sense of national pride. We did it. Canadians can do anything.

Nothing can unify Canadians like sports and Jose Bautista’s homer proved that fact once again. In the midst of a political campaign that is slowly tearing our country apart and dragging us down into an economic recession, the Blue Jays playing in October acts as a glue to gel the country together. No matter our roots or our abilities, we are all the same when we sit down and watch the Toronto Blue Jays. We laugh together, we argue the calls together, we comfort each other during losses and we share our elation following a win. We, and the Toronto Blue Jays, are one.

Canada, this is October baseball. It’s fun, right?

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