In 11-plus years covering the Yankees, I’ve been lucky to chronicle my share of incredible performances, memorable games — for reasons good and bad — and, yes, the bizarre involving baseball’s winningest franchise.
But one entry immediately comes to mind when it comes to craziest of all, and the Yankees were not a part of it.
Instead, we go north of the border for the Jose Bautista “bat-flip” game, a wild free-for-all of a playoff series-deciding game between the Blue Jays and Rangers at Toronto’s cacophonous Rogers Centre.
It included a near-riot by the hometown fans, a game protest by the home-team manager, three consecutive errors by the visiting team and a pair of bench-clearing incidents — and all of the above occurred in a 53-minute seventh inning that remains difficult to fully or adequately describe.
In October 2015, with the Yankees having been eliminated in the AL wild-card game by Dallas Keuchel and the Astros, I was assigned the ALDS between the AL East-winning Blue Jays and the AL West-winning Rangers.
It was a series for the most part contested in anonymity — at least as far as New York was concerned. Appropriately so, as the Mets were about to embark on an impressive postseason run that would land them in the World Series for the first time since 2000.
Rangers-Blue Jays already had a bit of everything before Game 5, including the road team winning each of the first four games.
Toronto’s reputation as a friendly city is well-earned, but it’s no secret among visiting teams that all that pleasantness does not extend inside Rogers Centre.
Certainly not on this Wednesday afternoon, with most of the sellout crowd of 49,742 already in their seats well before the 4:07 p.m. first pitch and creating a din.
The Rangers were not intimidated, and the score was tied at 2 entering the top of the seventh.
Blue Jays righty Aaron Sanchez relieved former Patchogue-Medford High School star Marcus Stroman, who allowed two runs and six hits in six innings, and the Rangers’ Rougned Odor led off with a single before reaching third with two outs.
With Shin-Soo Choo at bat, Sanchez’s 1-and-2 pitch was a ball.
Catcher Russell Martin’s return throw to the mound clipped Choo’s bat and skipped away. Odor sprinted home and initially was sent back by plate umpire and crew chief Dale Scott.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister, a former minor-league catcher, calmly argued that the ball was live, and, according to little-known Rule 6.03 (a) (3), indeed it was. Scott correctly changed the call and the Rangers led 3-2, prompting an 18-minute on-field argument, accompanied by a torrent of garbage, including water bottles and beer cans, raining down.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons protested the game. More debris from above.
Perhaps impacted by the palpable hostility of the crowd — in real time, one couldn’t help but wonder just how ugly it might end up being if the Blue Jays lost by that 3-2 score — the Rangers shockingly committed three straight errors to load the bases to start the bottom of the seventh.
Toronto pushed the tying run across and righty Sam Dyson came on to face Bautista, who obliterated a 97-mph fastball to leftfield to give the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead. Bautista accentuated the blow with what still is considered the gold standard of bat flips. Rogers Centre resembled the inside of a jet engine, and another hailstorm of refuse, this time in celebration, came from the upper levels.
Dyson and the next batter, Edwin Encarnacion, began jawing, causing a bench-clearing incident. Another followed when, after fouling out to end the inning, Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Chris Gimenez started yelling at each other.
Somehow, the final two innings were without incident and Toronto was in the ALCS.
“Insane” was just one of the words used in the victors’ clubhouse afterward.
“Absolutely crazy,” Tulowitzki said.