TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1993, and it was one of the biggest home runs in franchise history that got them there.
Jose Bautista's three-run homer capped a frenzied seventh inning and allowed Toronto to dispose of the Texas Rangers with a 6-3 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on Wednesday evening.
The Rangers had a 2-0 series lead, but the Blue Jays became just the third team in history to win a best-of-five postseason series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 Yankees and the 2012 Giants. Both of them advanced to the World Series, and the Giants won it all. The Blue Jays will face the Royals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ALCS on Friday night at 7:30 ET (FOX/Sportsnet) in Kansas City.
The whole series boiled down to a 53-minute, insane seventh inning with the highest of highs in one dugout and the polar opposite across the diamond. The dramatic twists and turns of events in that span were unlike any other in postseason memory.
Toronto tied the game, 2-2, on Edwin Encarnacion's home run in the sixth, but Texas reclaimed a 3-2 lead on a fluke play that started the seventh inning on a bizarre path that would define the series.
"I've never seen anything like that in 19 years in baseball," said Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. "It was like a novel that you don't want to put down."
Rougned Odor was on third base with two outs when Shin-Soo Choo took a fastball for ball two. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin tried to throw the ball back to relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez, but it hit Choo's hand, holding the bat, and ricocheted toward third base. Odor broke home and scored. Umpire Dale Scott called a dead ball and sent Odor back to third, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister asked Scott to convene with the other umpires to discuss the play. They reversed the decision and allowed Odor's run to count, calling a crew-chief review for a rule check in a sequence that prompted Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to initiate an official protest, which Toronto withdrew after its victory.
"I really didn't see his hand out there," Martin said of Choo. "I just caught the ball and threw it back very casually and it hit his bat, and next thing you know a run scores.
"It never happened in my life before. I don't really know what the rule is. He was in the box. I mean, it's just one of those moments and it created an opportunity for us to do something special. Jose, the hero. My college teammate picking me up right there. Unbelievable man."
The Blue Jays didn't waste time grabbing back the momentum, however, thanks to a series of miscues in the bottom half of the inning. Before recording an out, the Rangers became the first team in postseason history to make three errors in a single inning of a sudden-death game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, loading the bases. Two batters later, the tying run scored on a little blooper off the bat of Josh Donaldson that barely went over the head of Odor at second.
Bautista then followed with Toronto's biggest home run since Joe Carter hit a walk-off shot in Game 6 to win the 1993 World Series. It was a no-doubter that Bautista admired as it hit off the facing of the second deck, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, but it led to the first of two bench-clearing scenes in the inning after Bautista flung his bat high into the air.
"I was looking for something up," Bautista said. "He throws hard with a sinker. He threw the first one down and I just said tee it up, and I put a great swing on it and it felt great."
The loss went to Texas ace Cole Hamels, who began the seventh inning but was pulled after Toronto tied the game at 3-3. He allowed five runs (two earned) on four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman took the no-decision after he came through with six strong innings that saw him allow two runs on six hits and a walk.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Shades of Joe Carter: Bautista, the Blue Jays slugger, came through with the huge three-run shot in the seventh, giving Toronto its first lead of the game. With runners on the corners, Bautista took a 1-1 fastball from Rangers reliever Sam Dyson over the wall in left, capping off the scoring for what was a tense and confusing inning. According to Statcast™, the ball left Bautista's bat at 106 mph and traveled a projected 431 feet.
"I knew it was gone. I was enjoying it," Bautista said of his demonstrative bat flip. "It was a huge moment in the game, I knew I did something great for the team and that's it. I don't remember much after that until I ran the bases and got into the dugout. That's when I started coming to again."
• Huge 3-run blast by Bautista part of wild 7th
Surreal seventh inning: The Blue Jays' dramatic comeback put an end to one of the most bizarre and tense postseason games in recent memory. In addition to the cleared benches, there was an ejection of non-roster player Mark Buehrle and a strange play that saw Texas take a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh when Martin's throw to the mound hit Choo's hand and allowed Odor to score from third.
"That initially was called that kind of a no-call situation, but yet Choo's standing in the batter's box doing what he always does, the play's not dead," Banister said. "The ball was thrown, went off Choo's hand. It's still a live baseball. That's the rule. So how about my guy [Odor] being heads-up and scoring on that play and not keeping his head down, because that's who we are. We continue to play aggressively. We keep our heads up, and we stayed focused."
Defensive disintegration: The Rangers made three errors to start the seventh inning and set up Bautista's big blow. Shortstop Elvis Andrus bobbled Martin's grounder, first baseman Mitch Moreland bounced a throw to second trying for a force on Kevin Pillar's grounder and Andrus dropped a throw from Beltre when the Rangers tried to get a force at third on Ryan Goins' bunt. With the bases loaded, the Rangers got a force at home on Ben Revere's grounder to first. After Dyson relieved Hamels, Donaldson followed with a blooper that Odor misjudged. He recovered to get a force at second, but the tying run scored and left runners at the corners for Bautista.
"That was very uncharacteristic of us," Moreland said. "It was a tough inning for us, that's for sure."
In the pivotal seventh, three of the four runs in the inning were unearned. After Dyson came in for Hamels, he retired a batter, then allowed the home run to Bautista. The last run was charged to Dyson, since none of the errors occurred when he was pitching.
The Ed-wing: Encarnacion was making hard contact all series but didn't have a lot to show for it until the bottom of the sixth in Game 5. With Toronto trailing, 2-1, Encarnacion unloaded on a 93-mph fastball from Hamels and sent it over the wall in left field for the first home run of his postseason career. According to Statcast™, the solo shot was projected to travel 436 and left his bat at 110 mph.
"It's something we've been waiting for a long time for," Encarnacion said of the Blue Jays' run. "We're here."
Bautista strikes: Toronto trailed, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the third and desperately needed a spark vs. Hamels. They got it when Bautista stepped to the plate with a runner on second and two outs. Toronto's veteran slugger smacked an 0-1 fastball into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Revere. According to Statcast™, the exit velocity off Bautista's bat was 113.36 mph.
"The guy's amazing. He's my hero," Donaldson said. "For myself, personally, I haven't been able to make it to this next step that we're about to reach, and I'm very excited to be a part of that. Our team is just amazing."
Fielder breaks RBI drought:Prince Fielder had gone 22 postseason games and 93 plate appearances without an RBI before finally coming through in the first inning. He came up after Delino DeShields led off with a double and went to third on Choo's grounder. Fielder hit a slow bouncer to first baseman Chris Colabello, who bobbled the ball slightly in his glove before throwing home. But DeShields beat the throw to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead and Fielder an RBI, although he is still hitless in his last 17 postseason at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Andrus, with runners on first and second, tried to steal third base with two outs in the second inning and was thrown out by Martin. The Rangers challenged the call, but it was confirmed by replay and the Rangers' budding rally was over.
"This is going to go down as one of the great games that we ever played here." -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos