That was then: The Texas Rangers (the law enforcement outfit, that is) lived by the motto, “One riot, one Ranger.” The motto was fashioned by a Ranger captain, William McDonald, when he was sent to Dallas in 1896 to stop (wait for it) a prize fight.
This is now: The Texas Rangers (the baseball team, that is) lived Sunday by the apparent motto, “25 Rangers, one riot.” In their final game of a series and the season against the Toronto Blue Jays. All on behalf of avenging . . . a bat flip in last fall’s postseason.
A bat flip from Jose Bautista, who’d just squared up Sam Dyson for a nuclear three-run home run that helped send them to the American League Championship Series, before a Toronto audience that hadn’t seen live postseason baseball since the first Clinton Administration, with the Rogers Centre crowd going only slightly less nuclear than the ball Bautista drove toward the Aleutian Islands.
In a moment like that, folks, you might expect even businesslike Hank Aaron or tortured Roger Maris to flip his bat and join the crowd in whooping it up. (Reality check, gang: What’s passing Babe Ruth compared to hitting one out that means a showdown for the pennant?) But never mind for now.
You don’t throw at a man who flipped his bat in the ecstasy of the moment seven months earlier. Not even if, in his previous plate appearance in the game, he drilled a bases-loaded double to the gap in left center to put you in the hole, 5-2.
And if you’re fool enough to do so, you don’t assign the dirty work to a rook who wasn’t even in your organisation when the naughty bat was flipped in the first place. (In fairness: It’s always possible that Matt Bush, to whom the Rangers have given the unlikeliest of second chances, was trying to ingratiate himself to his new teammates.)
If you’re fool enough to do so, you don’t wait until his likely last plate appearance against you all season long, not counting whether you might or might not meet him in the postseason again. At least, if you didn’t think about it a week and a half earlier when you visited him and his, while him and his were taking two out of three from you otherwise, you should have thought about it early enough in the series now concluded. Like in the first game, for instance.
If you’re fool enough to do so, moreover, you don’t get to cry foul when, on the subsequent grounder, the bat flipper drove a hard slide right into your middle infielder, a hard but not exactly dangerous slide, no legs or arms flailing, the runner never leaving the baseline but sliding right over the pad instead of around or away from it.
What did Rougned Odor expect to receive at second base after Jose Bautista got drilled by Bush so late, if Bautista was given the chance, a singing telegram? Bautista’s only mistake was starting his slide a little on the late side. Otherwise, he wasn’t looking to kill or maim. ”I could have injured him but I chose not to,” Bautista said after the game. “I tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.”
What was that with trying to decapitate Bautista with the relay throw? Infielders are taught to drop the arm on relay throws if a runner is sliding or if they want to compel the runner to slide, but it looked like Odor was at least as interested in separating Bautista from his head on the throw.
Having failed that, and apparently ignorant of how in the wrong Bautista wasn’t, Odor settled for shoving Bautista before landing a right cross flush on Bautista’s left cheek, and both sides poured out of the dugouts and the bullpens.
Bautista and Odor got the ho-heave post haste. So did Josh Donaldson, who had loaded the bases for Bautista two innings earlier when he pried a walk out of Tom Wilhelmsen. So did Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele. When a semblance of order was restored—and with both teams having received warnings about further brushbacks—Toronto reliever Jesse Chavez hit Prince Fielder with a pitch and was tossed fast.
Nobody threw any punches when the teams poured out of the dugouts and pens for a second time. But Jays manager John Gibbons—who’d been tossed in the third for arguing a ball call on a pitch that replays showed was clearly enough a corner strike—will face some sort of discipline for returning to the field during one of the brawls despite his early ejection.
Apparently, this isn’t exactly virgin territory for Odor. In 2011, playing for the minor league Spokane Indians, Odor took out Vancouver Canadians shortstop Shane Opitz on a late slide, then saw fit to punch out Opitz and another Canadians player on his way back to the dugout. That got him a four-game suspension. This one should get him something comparable.
Somehow, the Rangers managed to win the game, 7-6, and the early season series, 4-3. But it could cost them more, especially in the ways of respect. Twenty-five Rangers, one riot.