SIMMONS: Blue Jays' Jose Bautista going out with a whimper, not a bang
This is not the way Jose Bautista wants to say goodbye.
With a whimper and not a bang.
With a swing and a miss, a wince and the perfunctory cold stare at the home plate umpire.
With an opportunity to get to the World Series — maybe for the only time in his storied career — slipping away in a wrong-time, wrong-place, wrong-month scenario.
There will be no next year for Bautista in Toronto. That much is all but certain with his free agency pending. This is his Blue Jays swan song but to date in this playoff season, it’s more like a sad song. And he wants nothing more than a change in tune and good fortune now, an opportunity to do what he has done here so many times before: alter a game. Make a play. Flex his chest. Be the full-of-bravado Bautista, the most hated man in baseball. Do what superstars do, or even former superstars if that’s what fits now.
Bautista is currently 0-for-ALCS. Eight at bats. Five strikeouts. Two walks. No hits. Three runners left in scoring position. The John Blutarsky grade-point batting average in the series: zero point zero.
At home in the post-season, he has one hit in eight at bats. And he maintains, as he always has, and always does, that there is nothing wrong.
Bautista is nothing if not consistent in his ways, if not his at-bats. He is forever defiant that he is right. It is part of what makes him so charming and annoying, part of what makes him seem somewhat delusional. The subtext of this season for him has been all about showing how much he had left, how he was worth big money and long-term, how he could change teams, how his body and his hands didn’t age. But he has been losing that argument to troubled health and lack of performance.
The Blue Jays need one of their big guns to become big in this series but so far there isn’t much to account for. They have lost to a Cleveland Indians team that has not had more than one hit in any of the 18 innings played through two games. That’s probably happened before in baseball history, just no one around the Blue Jays could remember losing to an offence so limited, with pitching this commanding.
“But they’ve got the home runs,” said Jays manager John Gibbons reluctantly. “They’ve got two of them.”
The Jays have none.
And not a fly ball that has been close. Corey Kluber and the Cleveland bullpen were superb in Game 1. Josh Tomlin and the bullpen were superb in Game 2. Bautista and other Jays think Toronto is not getting the correct calls on balls and strikes from the umpires, but while referencing that on two or three occasions Sunday in the clubhouse, Bautista said: “I’m not going to get into that.”
Then without getting into it, he got into it.
But that’s not really the issue for Bautista right now. Making contact is. Being a difference-maker is.
“I’m making good contact,” he said, knowing full well that isn’t so.
There were two men on base and two outs in Game 1. A Jose situation. Bautista struck out.
There were two men in scoring position, one out and a run scored in the third inning of Game 2 with Bautista at the plate and a rally possible. Another Jose situation. Again, he struck out.
Those are the kind of moments, circumstances, Bautista lives for, has made his career about. Has become the explosive Blue Jay you can’t stop staring at.
“It is on us,” said Bautista, talking about himself, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, the offensive stars of the power hitting Jays. These are the big bopping Blue Jays. Ten home runs against Baltimore and Texas in four straight wins. No home runs in two straight losses to the Indians.
“It’s a slugging team,” said manager John Gibbons. “That’s how we’re built. Not a bunch of young guys. Some guys that have been around. And they’ve been sluggers for the most part their whole career.”
And now time is of the essence. For Bautista. For nine other free-agent Jays. For Encarnacion. The Blue Jays can’t afford to lose Game 3 on Monday night if they have any real expectation of getting to the World Series. Not against this bullpen. Not against this young Indians team.
When it was suggested to Bautista that the Jays need to get an early lead and that these are actually shorter games because of the extra quality of the Cleveland relievers, Bautista said: “The people who said that are not baseball people.”
Not so. The people who said that happen to be Blue Jays coaches.