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Dramatic ALDS win leaves Flames with Blue Jays fever

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames


CALGARY, AB --
A script no movie producer in Hollywood would find believable, centered around a play as unimaginable as the outcome that followed.

A protest, and a mob of 49,742 erupted.

A team unraveled, botching three consecutive plays.

A 431-foot bomb, followed by the flick of a twig.

Benches cleared, more than once.

And a win. What a win.

A victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, capping a comeback -- both in the game and in the series -- to launch the Toronto Blue Jays beyond the Texas Rangers and into the American League Championship Series in their first post-season appearance since taking the World Series title in 1993.

The emotion -- the highs, the lows, the in-betweens -- felt from coast-to-coast, across the country.

Scotiabank Saddledome included.

“That was…gosh, I’ve watched many baseball games in my life, I’ve played many baseball games and this is the strangest game I’ve seen in my life,” Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “With almost three brawls and everything, gosh. You see what focus can do to an athlete. Obviously the emotions were running high and they couldn’t even look at each other towards the end of the game without provoking a melee. I credit the Blue Jays a lot. Even though there were situations to lose their composure and go crazy, they stayed and Jose came up big. He came up in the clutch and it was huge.”

Jose Bautista, who with a Joe Carter-esque swing of the bat sent a country soaring like the long ball he hit in the bottom of the seventh, paved the way for the Blue Jays to become just the sixth team in Major League Baseball history to rally back from an 0-2 deficit to win the division series.

But the dinger only contributed to one of the most unexplainable innings in Blue Jays, and baseball, history.

“That was one to remember for sure,” said Flames centre Matt Stajan, a participant as a 10-year-old in Toronto’s World Series parade in 1993. “It was the talk of the room today and I’m sure it’s the talk of the country. It was fun to watch. As a Blue Jays fan, as a lot of us

The drama was orchestrated in the top-half of the seventh.

With a 2-2 score, two outs and Rougned Odor standing on third base, Russell Martin’s routine toss back to the mound -- one done literally thousands of times this season without consequence -- struck the bat of Texas hitter Shin-Soo Choo and deflected down the line. Alertly, Odor bolted for home with the live ball rolling by him even as umpire and crew chief Dale Scott called the play dead.

Odor was initially ordered back to third base, but a lengthy gathering of umpires eventually ruled Odor home, and awarded the Rangers a 3-2 lead.

Toronto manager John Gibbons, in multiple discussions with Scott, officially launched a protest.

“We’ve all been through those calls, against us and for us,” Hartley detailed. “It’s a game played, ref’d, and coached by human beings. I’ve seen calls go my way; I’ve seen calls go against me. I’ve made calls that were bad calls, I’ve made great calls. I’ve seen players make great plays and bad plays, but that’s the way it is. At the same time, when your emotions are going through the roof and the crowd is going crazy, that’s when you need to unplug. It’s, trust me, it’s much easier said than done.”

Choo’s non-intent to interfere was determined.

The run stood.

Pandemonium ensued.

“That was quite something,” said forward Josh Jooris, whose Blue Jays patronage dates back to his teenage years. “If the game would have ended like that, I don’t know what would have happened in Toronto. It’s lucky it didn’t happen. I think it was unbelievable to see that and the fans rally.”

Rally, Toronto did.

Crumble, too, did the Rangers.

In the bottom-half of the seventh and with just nine outs remaining in an incredible season, the Blue Jays loaded the bases on three consecutive errors from Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Coincidently, or appropriately, Martin was the first to reach after Andrus bobbled his ground ball up the middle. One runner on; one error. Kevin Pillar’s fielder’s choice was optioned to second base, where Andrus dropped the throw from first baseman Mitch Moreland. Two runners on; two errors. Ryan Goins’ bunt quickly found the glove of Adrian Beltre, who attempted to catch the lead runner at third, a throw fumbled by Andrus. Bases loaded. Three errors.

With Sam Dyson on the mound to relieve starter Cole Hamels, Josh Donaldson followed a Ben Revere fielder’s choice by sending a blooper into shallow right field. Odor couldn’t come up with it, but was able to get the force out on Revere at second base.

Tie game, 3-3.

“From a fan perspective you feel the adrenaline and the pressure they’re going through,” Jooris said. “It’s a bit of a different game, it’s a bit slower, but the pressure when you’re at the plate and the ball game is tied and a pitch is coming at you at 100 miles per hour and you have to think in a split second. It’s a bit different, but you can feel the pressure they’re going through.”

Two runners remained on base for Bautista.

He promptly removed them.

A 1-1 pitch, incoming at 97 miles-per-hour, was deposited over the left field wall, pausing for a second at home plate to absorb the moment before tossing the bat away emphatically to punctuate the swing.

6-3 Blue Jays lead.

“You’re going to remember that Bautista home run for sure,” said Stajan, whose series-winner at 15:43 in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round left a similar mark on the Vancouver Canucks. “He knew it was gone the second he hit it and everybody liked the bat flip. It’s the talk of the room today so it’s great.

“Being in that situation, when you hit a home run like that, you’re emotions are so high that you don’t even know what you’re doing. I go back to last year when we beat Vancouver, you’re on a high and you don’t know how you’re reacting. You’re not trying to rub it in anyone’s face but you’re just so excited and obviously it was a big swing in that game.”

The biggest swing.

It brought Rogers Centre, and the rest of Canada, to their feet.

It also scattered both teams out of the dugout following the blast, and again after Troy Tulowitzki fouled out to end the 53-minute inning.

And, with some work by closer Roberto Osuna to nail it down, it sent Toronto, and the rest of Canada, into the ALCS.

6-3 Blue Jays win.

“They had to win that game yesterday to have a chance,” Stajan said. “They were down with what happened with Texas’ third run. I think that’s very emotional and you’re pretty down after that. They were pretty fired up. I sure was as a fan.

“I can imagine being one of the players. For them to bounce back, it was neat to see. They got a little help, but you take advantage of errors and they won.

“I think it’s one of those games that everyone will remember where they were.”

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