Jose Bautista needs to play emotionally, and no matter how he reacts to iffy calls of umpires, he expects them to call a ball a ball, and a strike a strike, without bias.
During the season opening loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, the Blue Jays slugger reacted demonstrably to protest a pair of strike calls in separate at-bats, and before Wednesday's game manager John Gibbons cautioned that Bautista risks building a reputation with umpires for showing them up.
"Sometimes I have trouble, more than other players, dealing with my production being affected by somebody else's mediocrity. That's just the way I am as a person," Bautista told a small group of writers a little while later, before a 3-2 loss to the Indians.
Naturally, Bautista found himself at the plate in the ninth inning, the Jays trailing Cleveland by a run, with the Rogers Centre crowd having already started to jeer the Blue Jays for sloppy defence and lack of timely hitting. He'd grounded into a pair of inning ending double plays earlier, though his running catch in Cleveland's eighth inning saved a run, keeping the score 2-1.
Bautista delivered the Jays' first big hit in two games, a solo homer off closer Chris Perez to tie the game. Mark Reynolds responded in the 11 inning with a homer off Sergio Santos, for a 3-2 Indians victory. Toronto's ballyhooed new offence combining speed and power has produced a total of nine hits in the first two games. The Jays have yet to lead the Indians, through two games.
Left-hander Mark Buehrle makes his debut for the Jays on Thursday, as the three-game series wraps up.
Jays starter Brandon Morrow, his fastball reaching 95- to 99-mph on the radar gun, struck out six in the first three innings, five coming with runners in scoring position, and a total of eight through six before exiting.
In the third, Michael Bourn's spinning soft liner fooled third baseman Maicer Izturis, bouncing off his glove for a double. Michael Brantley's two-out grounder through the left side scored him. Izturis, normally the second baseman, is replacing the injured Brett Lawrie, and Gibbons had kept backup third baseman Mark DeRosa on the bench until late in Wednesday's game.
Izturis hit a solo homer to tie (since breaking in with the Montreal Expos in 2004, Izturis had hit 34 home runs in eight seasons, spanning 2,616 at-bats) but the Indians go-ahead run in the eighth came on his throwing error. He backhanded Carlos Santana's grounder, stepped on third for one out but threw wide of first into the outfield trying for the double play. Brantley scored from first ahead of Bautista's throw from right, and the play conjured the first boos of the season from the announced crowd of 24,619.
Bautista is willing to bank on the umpires' integrity, and let his play stand for itself.
Many hitters unhappy with a plate umpires call will heed unwritten protocol by standing upright and uttering commentary without making eye contact, as did teammate Jose Reyes after being rung up in the sixth inning.
"I don't see anything wrong with playing with emotion," Bautista said. "I have to rely on my eyes to dictate what I can do and not do on the field and if my eyes are telling me something, then I react. I don't mean any disrespect by it. I'm not trying to make anybody look bad, and I don't think I make anybody look bad by reacting."
The question is whether the grey-area calls will go against him, as reprisal. Bautista doesn't believe he's hurting the team, and he has detected no evidence that umpires are unnaturally biased against him. Nor does he expect them to be.
"Judge for yourself - is that professional?" he asked the small group of writers. "Just because one guy reacts more than the other, then every single time there's a close pitch, it's a strike? Or are you going to go by the baseball's parametres of what's a strike, what's a ball?"
Bautista said he can't play robotically.
"If I'm walking down the street and see someone robbing an old lady, I'm going to react," he said. "When I see something out of line, in my head that seems out of place, I react. I'm not sitting there yelling at them all the time. I react, then get back in the box and battle.
Gibbons indicated that he doesn't intend to re-address the matter in the near term.
"It may never become an issue," he said.