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Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits his 50th home run of the season in his first at bat in their MLB American League baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Toronto September 23, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)
Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits his 50th home run of the season in his first at bat in their MLB American League baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Toronto September 23, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)

Bautista joins exclusive club Add to ...

Hank Aaron never did it, and neither did Mike Schmidt or Ernie Banks.

Frank Robinson never joined the club, along with Reggie Jackson, Frank Thomas or Carl Yastrzemski.

Some of the greatest sluggers in the history of major-league baseball were never able to accomplish what Jose Bautista did on a glorious Thursday afternoon at an open Rogers Centre when he slammed his 50th home run of the season for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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It's a remarkable achievement for the Johnny-come-lately long ball practitioner, whose previous season high was 16 back in 2006 when he was still playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I was pretty comfortable going into the season that I was going to have a good year," Bautista said afterward in his usual understated fashion. "But nowhere in my mind did it ever cross that I would hit 50 home runs."

Adding to Bautista's joyous moment is that his hit held up as the winning run in a 1-0 Blue Jays victory over the Seattle Mariners.

It was a veritable feast of milestones at the stadium as Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki punched out a couple of hits to become the first player to record 10 straight 200-hit seasons.

Ichiro now has more 200-hit seasons than any player in American League history, breaking the record he shared with Detroit's Ty Cobb.

"We had some things happen today that I've never seen before," marvelled Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays manager. "It's a day I'll always remember."

After a three-game dry spell, Bautista became the first player in Blue Jays franchise history to reach the 50-home run plateau when he stroked a high, arching shot in the first inning off Felix Hernandez, the tough right-hander for the Mariners.

With a favourable breeze blowing out toward left field, the ball just cleared the wall and the small crowd of 12,590 at Rogers Centre stood and applauded Bautista's triumph as he jogged around the base paths.

After he disappeared into the Blue Jays dugout for a round of hugs and high-fives from his teammates, Bautista was only too happy to emerge from the dugout to tip his cap to the gathering that was demanding a curtain call.

At least Bautista had the good sense to hit the keepsake into the Blue Jays bullpen where he could be assured of getting it back - with a little bit of haggling, of course.

"I think we should charge him $10,000 each for it," opined Toronto reliever Brian Tallet to teammate Jason Frasor, who grabbed the ball off the bounce in the bullpen.

The 29-year-old Bautista has now joined some select company, becoming just the 26th player in major-league history to swat as many as 50 homers in a single season and the first since 2007 when both Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees (54) and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers accomplished the feat.

"It's been a long journey," Bautista said, a reference to his falling out of favour with the Pirates back in 2008, when he was demoted to Triple-A before he was dealt to the Blue Jays in August of that year for a player to be named later.

"But I think the most important thing was that I came to this organization in the critical point of my career. I needed another chance and I found it here."

With baseball's steroid scandal still lingering in the mind of many, Bautista has maintained all along that a simple alteration to his swing, and not artificial substances, is behind his new-found power.

"Absolutely not," Bautista responded evenly on Thursday when asked if he'd ever taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Asked to run through the home run moment against Hernandez, Bautista's answer provided some key insights why he has enjoyed the success he has this season.

"The thing I did know from watching video and looking at the numbers from his last starts, he hadn't walked a right-handed batter in his last four starts," Bautista said. "He was throwing a lot of strikes. Early on I expected a pitcher like that to establish his fastball so he can get his off-speed stuff to work so I was looking for fastballs in the zone.

"He missed a couple times and he threw me two that were pretty good pitches to hit. The first one I missed and the second one I didn't."

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