Blue Jays Overcome Controversy, Chaos to Advance in Game 5 Instant Classic

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Blue Jays Overcome Controversy, Chaos to Advance in Game 5 Instant Classic
Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The gods that oversee the game of baseball, they were livid.

And they had every right to be. There's no way they ever envisioned a do-or-die elimination playoff game's being decided this way.

Yet because of Major League Baseball's rules that sometimes induce head-scratching and cries about the actual spirit of the law, the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were on the cusp of having their best-of-five American League Division Series decided on one of those unfair, but correct, interpretations of a rule.

Never mind that Marcus Stroman held strong over six innings, having allowed two runs, and went scoreless in his final three to prove the Blue Jays correct in giving him the ball and not ace David Price. Forget that one of the game's most underappreciated sluggers, Edwin Encarnacion, had just delivered a dramatic game-tying home run a half-inning before. Or that Texas ace Cole Hamels had been on par with Stroman through six innings.

The baseball gods were not having it, so they reached down and touched this ALDS Game 5, sparking one of the most unforgettable, nearly-hour-long innings in postseason history. And they did so by creating pure, unadulterated havoc. There was controversy, arguing, cleared benches, angry and then joyous and unruly fans, two lead changes and maybe the most epic home-run admiration the planet has ever seen.

And the team nearly wronged by an obscure rule, the Blue Jays, moved on to the American League Championship Series with a roller-coaster 6-3 victory Wednesday at Rogers Centre. The win completed an improbable comeback after the Rangers won the first two games in Toronto.

"A seventh inning we will never forget," Fox Sports 1 play-by-play announcer Kenny Albert calmly uttered at the completion of the approximately 53-minute frame, which ended with the benches clearing for a second time.

That Jose Bautista three-run homer decided the outcome and capped a bottom half of the seventh inning that gave every sense of those overseeing gods being angered. It started with three errors on three consecutive routine plays that loaded the bases for the Blue Jays with nobody out.

They eventually tied the game on an odd fisted fielder's choice from Josh Donaldson, and Joey Bats followed with a homer that also produced a Hall of Fame-caliber discarding of the bat, dripping with disgust, relief and vengeance all at the same time.

What started all this nuttiness? A freak occurrence on an act that happens nonchalantly a few hundred times a game.

With Rougned Odor on third base, two strikes on Shin-Soo Choo and two outs in the top of the inning in a 2-2 game, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin tossed the ball back to reliever Aaron Sanchez. No big deal. Except the ball hit Choo on the hand while he held the bat and stood in the left-handed-hitter's batter's box with his arms extended, but still inside the box's chalk line.

The ball caromed toward third base, and Odor alertly sprinted home. Plate umpire Dale Scott immediately called the play dead, negating the run, but after Rangers manager Jeff Banister did some lobbying, the umpiring crew huddled and eventually called the play live and the run good.

That gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead and led to angry Blue Jays fans throwing any kind of rubbish they could find onto the field. Play stopped for several minutes, but even though the ruling seemed unfair, the umpires correctly interpreted Rule 6.03(a)(3), which says such a play is live and runners may advance.

"It's still a live baseball," Banister said in his postgame press conference, noting plays like that happened to him as a catcher in his playing days. "That's the rule. How about my guy being heads-up and scoring on that play?"

The Blue Jays played the rest of the game under protest.

"I really didn't see his hand out there," Martin said after the game on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. "I caught the ball and threw it back very casually, and the next thing you know the run scores. It's never happened in my life before. I don't know what the rule is. He was in the box. It was just one of those moments and it created one of those moments for us to do something special.

"You can feel sorry for yourself or you can go do something about it. We did something about it."

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus heavily aided the Blue Jays' doing something about it. He booted a routine ground ball from Martin to start the bottom of the seventh, and moments later he could not handle a poor throw to second from first baseman Mitch Moreland, who was charged with the error. Seconds after that, Andrus flubbed a fine throw from third baseman Adrian Beltre, who fielded a bad sacrifice bunt from Ryan Goins and had time to get the force at third base. But Andrus, covering third on the wheel play, dropped the throw.

The bases were loaded, and after a couple fielder's choices tied the game, Bautista, the longest-tenured Blue Jays player, throttled a 97 mph fastball from Texas reliever Sam Dyson into the second deck 431 feet away from the moment of impact.

Bautista stood. He stared. He chucked his lumber. He circled the bases. Debris flew onto the field again. The benches stupidly cleared again after the inning. The Blue Jays led. The Blue Jays won.

"With everything that transpired after that," Banister said, referring to his team's taking the lead, "I have no comment."

Honestly, none was needed.

The game spoke for itself for the Blue Jays. Stroman showed he can be trusted with the ball in critical situations, and the team found out something new about the youngest player in baseball, closer Roberto Osuna. The 20-year-old Mexican had to get five outs for the save after one of the most dramatic comebacks in playoff lore, and he did so marvelously.

For the series, Osuna pitched 5.2 innings, did not allow a run or walk a batter and struck out six. He is a real weapon going forward this postseason.

The Blue Jays' response in this game showed a kind of moxie needed for October success. Stroman's first elimination performance, Encarnacion's high-leverage homer, Osuna's emergence—all of it showed this is a team that can spit in the face of adversity. And even though momentum is fickle in this game, Game 5 was the kind of supercharge the Blue Jays can use to push through the upcoming ALCS, to give Price the juice to bust up his postseason demons and have the smell of a pennant wafting around the clubhouse.

That seventh inning spoke for itself. It was obnoxiously crazy and unfathomable. It was why we rise and fall with sports, why we watch, with the hopes of seeing something people will be talking about a half-century from now.

On Wednesday, we all got exactly that. And at the end of it all, the gods were pleased.

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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