One day after being ejected in an extra-innings loss to Tampa, Jose Bautista found himself in the spotlight again Monday.
Surrounded by media, the Jays slugger was unrepentant in his belief that he did nothing to warrant being ejected by home plate umpire Bill Welke in the sixth inning Sunday after striking out.
His ejection took on a bigger light when outfield replacement Nolan Reimold misplayed a fly ball in the top of the 10th inning, an error that turned into the winning run in the 2-1 Tampa win. Reimold also struck out to end the game.
Jays manager John Gibbons did not mince words afterwards.
“Bottom line we need him in the game. Say your piece, and get the hell out of there,” he said of Bautista. “We’re trying to get in the playoffs, we need you on the field.
“He (Bautista) is a marked man in this game. Bill Welke, I thought he had a pretty good zone today. He was steady, I thought he was looking to call strikes. But we need you in the game.”
Gibbons repeated his view Monday, although he called the incident old news and said there were “no issues.” He also made a point of citing Bautista’s intensity while declining to say whether he had talked to the player about Sunday’s incident.
“To be honest, I think he’s handled himself very well this year,” Gibbons said of Bautista’s actions towards umpires. “My point is we need him. He doesn’t do us any good sitting on the bench.”
Still, Gibbons’s bluntness in pointing the finger at a star player was unusual. It also comes in a rollercoaster season that has seen Bautista question the team’s lack of moves to strengthen the roster.
The 33-year-old Bautista, who is slated to make $14-million this season, is the face of the franchise and an influential voice in the locker-room. Rightly or wrongly, every hiccup comes in for intense scrutiny.
Bautista has more than a few in his corner, judging from the warm reaction he got when his name came up during the Jays introduction Monday night.
A nice running catch to end the top of the first won more cheers and he got a good response for his first-inning at-bat despite grounding out.
The manager’s comments on Sunday’s ejection did not go unnoticed by Bautista.
“I did read his quotes and I understand his frustrations,” the right-fielder said before Monday night’s game with Boston. “And I had the same frustrations. I didn’t want to get ejected. But it happened.
“Again I don’t think what I did warranted an ejection. That’s the only thing that I can say.”
Sitting at his locker stall, a relaxed Bautista then surveyed the media throng around him.
“I find it interesting though that this is so important that this is the first time all year that I’ve had 15 people in front of my locker,” he said after pausing to count the reporters. “After a lot of good games and after a lot of bad games. It’s very interesting to me.”
A reporter countered that a lot of times his locker was empty before games.
“I don’t believe that,” Bautista said. “I don’t think that’s true.”
Bautista has had issues with umpires in the past, but has kept his emotions in check this season.
Last year, he spoke out on the issue after being upset at the strike calling of umpire Jeff Nelson in the season opener against Cleveland.
Asked about it the next day, Bautista said he reacts to umpires because he plays with emotion.
“Sometimes I have trouble more than other players dealing with my production being affected by somebody else’s mediocrity,” he said. “It’s just the way that I am as a person, it’s a tougher pill to swallow for me sometimes.”
The comments were unlikely to win him favour with the umpiring professionals in the 161 games that followed.
On Monday, Bautista chose his words carefully as he fenced with reporters. He sounded more like a lawyer than a baseball player as he debated the meaning of argument.
“I feel what I said and what I did did not warrant an ejection. But I did get ejected. And I don’t have anybody else to blame for it, that’s my fault. But I also wanted to say what I wanted to say. Without cursing, without raising my voice, without being animated, without showing him up.
“And I don’t think when you do that in a polite matter you should get ejected.”
Bautista said the ejection and subsequent criticism will not change his future interaction with umpires even though he acknowledged “nobody can ever win” such discussions.
“That doesn’t mean you’ve got to keep your mouth shut,” he said. “Especially when you’re being polite, especially when you’re again not raising your voice, not using curse words.
“I mean I didn’t know there was a gag order in baseball. If that rule was put out, I haven’t got the memo yet.”
Bottom line, Bautista didn’t seemed too fazed about anyone else’s opinion.
“I know my motives. I know the things that I do and why I do them,” he said. “And what makes me a good player. And what makes me tick, and why I come out here every day and what my purpose is.
“If some people want to believe that’s part ulterior motive, obviously they’re entitled to their opinion but I obviously don’t agree with them.”
The elephant in the room was whether Bautista’s actions in not letting the strikeout go were selfish.
“I don’t think that I should come to my job and worry about performing and on top of that try to convince the world that I’m a good person or that I have good intentions within my team,” he said. “I don’t think that’s my job. I think my job is to come here and play hard and try my best. And I think I do that every single day.
“Again, if some people believe that I’m selfish or have whatever reasons or motives to do anything while I’m out on the field, that’s their opinion. I shouldn’t have to campaign against that just to get people on my side. I should go out there and play hard every day and try to help my team win games.”