Jose Bautista had taken a step toward first base in anticipation of a walk when home plate umpire Bill Welke rang him up, judging the borderline-low slider from Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer a third strike for the second out in the sixth inning.
Bautista, as he has been known to do from time to time, then struck a petulant pose in front of Welke and argued the call until the all-star right fielder for the Blue Jays was finally thrown out of the game by the veteran umpire on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays were trailing by a run, so the timing of their star player’s eruption could not have come at a worse moment for a team whose once high hopes for a postseason berth have now fallen on life support.
With Bautista back in the clubhouse, the Rays (64-66) would go on to forge a 2-1 victory in 10 innings over the Blue Jays (66-64) in a game that many may look back on as the one that signified the beginning of the end of Toronto’s playoff dreams.
With the win, the Rays took the weekend series two games to one.
Afterward, Toronto manager John Gibbons, normally a staunch defender of his players, left little doubt how he felt about Bautista’s conduct.
“Bottom line, we need him in the game,” Gibbons said. “Say your piece, get the hell out of there. We’re trying to get into the playoffs, we need him out in the field.
“[Bautista’s] a marked man in this game, you know. Bill Welke, I thought he had a pretty good zone today. He was steady. I thought he was calling strikes, he was looking to call strikes. But we need you in the game.”
It was a contrite Bautista who spoke with reporters after the game, but he refused to be specific on exactly what he said to Welke.
“Ask him [Welke],” Bautista said.
Did you curse, or anything like that?
“Ask him,” Bautista repeated.
Do you feel the ejection was warranted?
“Nope,” he said.
Bautista was asked, given the juncture of the game and its importance, if it might have been wiser just to turn and walk back to the dugout after Welke’s call.
“At any point in the game it would have been wiser,” Bautista said. “Again, what I’m sure I said I don’t feel was warranting what happened. But if you want to get the details you can go ask him or ask the stadium if they have a microphone and then you’ll get your answer.”
Bautista was then asked if he blamed himself for what transpired.
“I mean, if you want to stick to facts, the facts are because I did say something, anything at all, I did get tossed,” he said. “I guess you would say yes.
“But again, I feel like what I know I said was nowhere near warranting getting ejected. But, if you want to get the other side of the story you’re going to have to talk to Welke.”
The Blue Jays were trailing the Rays 1-0 at the time and, although they came back to tie it with a run in the seventh inning, both Bautista’s prodigious bat (24 home runs on the year) and fielding prowess were things the team could have used late in the game.
In the top of the 10th inning, with Nolan Reimold playing in right in place of Bautista, Logan Forsythe stroked a line drive that Reimold appeared to have a bead on only to see the ball glance off his glove for an error.
“It was completely my fault, the play’s got to be made,” a despondent Reimold said.
The gaffe left the Rays with runners at second and third and nobody out.
Evan Longoria then stroked a grounder into left field to card the winning run – the only upside on the play being that Forsythe was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a nice toss from Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera.
It was a rude welcome back for Sergio Santos, the Toronto reliever just recalled from Triple-A, who entered the game in the top of the frame. Santos was saddled with the loss as a result.
To make matters worse, the Blue Jays wasted a great opportunity to at least tie it up in in the bottom of the inning, placing runners at first and third with nobody out.
Jose Reyes popped out in foul territory, Melky Cabrera flied out to second and Reimold – hitting in Bautista’s spot – struck out to end the sad affair.