MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Blue Jays, Rangers focus on winning, not past

Blue Jays, Rangers focus on winning, not past

ARLINGTON -- There is a time to settle scores. This is not it. That's the bottom line for the Rangers and Blue Jays.

"This is the playoffs," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "You know how difficult it is to get where we're at right now?"

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 TOR 10, TEX 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 TOR 5 TEX 3 video
Gm 3 Oct. 9 TOR 7, TEX 6 (10) video

Down the hallway in the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Park, the message was the same ahead of Game 1 of the American League Division Series today at 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT on TBS in the U.S., and Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada. Texas lefty Cole Hamels opposes Toronto righty Marco Estrada in the opener.

"I'm not looking for revenge," Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista said. "I'm looking to win ballgames. That's entirely what my focus is on. Hopefully, I get to keep it there."

Sure, there's bad blood between the Rangers and Blue Jays. Neither team runs from that fact.

"There's no secret the two teams don't like each other," Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "They don't like what we did to them last year. We don't like the way they responded."

But something far more important is at stake. Something players dream about their entire lives -- a World Series championship.

Estrada, Hamels to meet in ALDS

This ALDS that begins today is more than a rematch of last year's postseason. It's about a crack at winning a ring. Seasons are too long and too difficult to get sidetracked by anything else at this point in the season.

"We have our mind on getting to the World Series and winning it," Beltre said. "We don't have our mind on trying to fight somebody or thinking about what happened three months ago."

On the other hand, things do happen in the heat of the moment.

"It's easy to say right now," Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "During the game, anything can happen."

Players understand that controlling their emotions is a huge part of performing well in big games. Rangers manager Jeff Banister calls it "playing with emotion without getting emotional." If these teams can't do that, if they're distracted by an old grudge, they are risking the thing that should be most important. Whatever happened last season or or earlier in this one can be taken care of later.

Banister on facing Blue Jays

Obviously, though, this series comes with some significant recent history. Bautista's three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning of an elimination Game 5 of their 2015 ALDS got the Blue Jays a 6-3 victory. Bautista punctuated the home run with an epic bat flip. That the bat landed near the Rangers' dugout at Rogers Centre particularly galled Texas' players and coaches.

The Rangers stewed on it an entire offseason, as the Blue Jays advanced and eventually lost to the Royals in the AL Championship Series.

For Toronto, this is about taking another crack at getting to the World Series, not getting revenge.

"That's been the goal since Spring Training started," Bautista said. "Everybody was left with a little bit of a sour taste in their mouth. There were no regrets last year. We just got beat by a team that was playing better than us at the time. Hopefully, that changes this year."

Texas got its revenge on May 15 at Globe Life when reliever Matt Bush plunked Bautista with a pitch in the top of the eighth inning.

Bautista gets hit by a pitch

Moments later, Bautista slid hard into Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor, and things got out of control.

When the two players tangled, Odor delivered a solid right punch to the left side of Bautista's face. That incident happened near the end of the seventh and final game the two teams played during the regular season.

The Blue Jays had figured if the Rangers were going to retaliate for the bat flip, they would have done it before the last game. Instead, Texas apparently took some pleasure in watching Bautista come to bat 32 times not knowing whether he would be hit.

And then, in his 33rd plate appearance, Bush hit him. When Bautista got a shot at Odor at second base, he took it.

What now?

"I'm not thinking about that," Bautista said. "I'm looking to beat them and move onto the next series. We're just focused on winning ballgames. Hopefully, we can keep the focus there, and I think we will. Hopefully, it's the same for them. This is what we play baseball for.

"It's unfortunate that it got out of hand last time. It's in the past. Hopefully, it stays there."

Gibbons on rivalry with Rangers

Bautista knows that he will be booed loudly, just as Odor will get the same treatment in Toronto.

"They might have their reasons to dislike me," Bautista said. "I think I have a couple more reasons to dislike them."

As for Odor, he said he hoped the series was simply about baseball. And the baseball itself could be outstanding.

"I think it's a normal series," the Rangers' second baseman said. "We're going to try to do the same thing we do with every team. Try to play our game. Try to win the series."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.