53 Minutes of Madness in Toronto: An Oral History of the ALDS Inning That Broke BaseballTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
On October 14, 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 6-3 in the fifth and final game of their American League Division Series. But Toronto’s win came at a steep cost to the sport, as the game’s senseless seventh inning pulled back baseball’s logical outer layer to expose the fetus fields and Langoliers below. For years, most participants have considered the inning too painful to talk about, but time has smoothed some of its emotional edges. Recently, we asked a few of the principals to delve into their pasts to explain the game’s troubling legacy.
On the surface, the inning that ended a sport started innocently enough.
John Gibbons (Blue Jays manager): The signs were there, but we didn’t see them. Go back and look at the first pitch of the inning: 98-mile-per-hour sinker from Sanchez, on the black, and Odor took it. It was exactly where Martin wanted it. One of the best receivers in baseball, and his glove barely budged. But the ball popped out. The ball popped out.
Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor singled, catcher Chris Gimenez sacrificed him to second, and outfielder Delino DeShields grounded out on a pretty barehand play by Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, advancing Odor to third. That brought up Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, with relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez one out away from escaping the inning.
Russell Martin (Blue Jays catcher): Odor was doing an Elaine Benes dance on third, just a real sort of spastic hop. So I had half an eye on him.
I’d tossed the ball back to the pitcher tens of thousands of times, and there’d never been a bat in the way. I threw without thinking. Next thing I knew, the ball was bouncing down the line, and Odor was on his way. Faster than I could say “Sweet fancy Moses,” he’d scored.
Shin-Soo Choo: It was one of those things where, once it happens, you can’t believe you didn’t do it before. From my first full season to 2015, no other batter took as many pitches for the team. It was what I was known for — the guy who’s good at getting hit by baseballs. But this was my first time getting hit that didn’t hurt. All of those years I was using my body, getting bruised, ignoring the obvious: Bats have no nerve endings. If the rest of my career hadn’t been canceled, I definitely would’ve tried to do that again.
Aaron Sanchez: [Plate umpire] Dale Scott caused a lot of confusion. You could hear him say “no, no, no.” At first I thought he was talking to Odor, telling him to turn around. But now I think he was pleading with whatever god umpires pray to. He’d already realized that this was a bad time to be crew chief.
Alfonso Marquez (left-field umpire): No one knew what to do, so I tried to take charge by grabbing the baseball and putting it in my mouth. Just stuck it up in there for safekeeping. I umped the rest of the inning with a baseball-size bulge in my cheek. Even when we weren’t sure about the score or the proper place to put runners, we never wondered where the baseball was. But cowhide tastes terrible.
Vic Carapazza (third-base umpire): It was anarchy. I ejected someone for saying something from the general vicinity of the home dugout, but I couldn’t hear who’d said what. I was trying to assert our authority, but it backfired: No one knew whom I’d ejected, least of all me. It ended up being Mark Buehrle, who wasn’t on the active roster. Take that, Toronto.
Beset by both teams and a restless Rogers Centre crowd, the umpires huddled, then called the Replay Operations Center for assistance.
Dale Scott: Honestly, no one picked up. Damn direct line just kept ringing and ringing. I don’t think anyone in New York wanted to be on the hook for what the hell had just happened. So I just pretended to talk. I couldn’t let anyone know how cut off from the cavalry we were. Then Alfonso actually moved his mic away from his mouth, maybe because of the ball he had in there, so I couldn’t keep up the charade.
Scott ruled that Odor had scored, giving Texas a 3-2 lead with nine Toronto outs remaining. Fans started launching any objects on hand. A message on the scoreboard urged them to stop, but the hail of cans and concession food only intensified.
Michael Cera (Canadian actor): I had an audition the day after the game. I was supposed to play this young-ish, stammering softy, a sensitive, sensible type that everyone around him ignores. You know, the usj. I can play that part in my sleep. But this time, the casting director said, “Sorry, we just don’t think you’re right for the role.” A few weeks later, I landed my first action role, a real leading man. I think that inning changed the way the world saw us. And maybe it changed the way we saw ourselves. Canadians aren’t necessarily nice. Canadians can throw things. Get enough of us together in an enclosed space, push us too far, and Canadians are sort of scary. It was unsettling but also inspiring, like it was when Drake got swoll for no reason. Suddenly, Celine and Sarah McLachlan were in a screamo band, Feist did an Android ad, and Nathan Fillion was like, “You know what, maybe Firefly didn’t deserve a second season.”
Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays pitcher): I was standing on the top step, trying to tell the fans to tone it down. Bottles were flying, fans were screaming, kids were crying. I could hardly hear myself think. Then the crowd parted for a few seconds and I got a glimpse of this guy in a Rangers jersey. A New York Rangers jersey. The Rangers were playing in Montreal the next night, so right country, I guess, but wrong city and wrong Rangers. And that’s when I thought, OK, we’re through the looking glass.
The game got under way, but not before Gibbons lodged a formal complaint. Scott notified the Rangers bench that the Jays were playing under protest.
Joe Torre (MLB chief baseball officer): When the protest came in, we tossed it in the trash with the others. There’s no harm in revealing this now: Protests make managers feel better, but only one has worked in the last 30 years, and that was only because of an idiot intern who’d just transferred into the Protest Department. We fired him. He lodged a protest with HR, but it wasn’t upheld.
Martin: It’s like you always hear announcers say, “How many times do you see a guy make a careless, possibly season-ending play and lead off the next inning?” I just put together my prayer hands and swung hard, hoping I’d hit it.
Martin made contact, bouncing a ball to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who booted it.
Elvis Andrus: I had to take a long look in the mirror that night. Not a figurative mirror — like, real reflective glass. And for the first time, I found gray hairs. I swear they weren’t there going into the game. Who gets a gray goatee at age 27? That inning aged me, man.
The next batter, outfielder Kevin Pillar, grounded to Mitch Moreland at first, who gloved it and fired to second for the force. But Moreland bounced the throw, tying up Andrus, who couldn’t corral it. Both runners were safe.
Mitch Moreland: I remember my first year in Texas, Ron Washington was my manager. I was doing fielding drills in spring training, getting frustrated, and I guess our infield instructor wanted to pump me up. So he starts telling me the throw to second is easy. I must have seemed skeptical, since he asked Wash for some support: “Tell ’im, Wash.” And Wash said: “It’s incredibly hard.” Wash was always saying that, so I didn’t think much of it at the time. But after that error, it kind of came back to me. I’m standing there, trying to blend into the turf, thinking, Wash was right.
Dioner Navarro (Blue Jays catcher): After I saw the second error, I lost most of my motor control. I had a bat in my hands, so I started swinging, bringing it down again and again like one of those nice guys in movies who finally unhinges and has to be pulled off an unconscious assailant he’s beating to a bloody pulp. In my mind, I was thinking, The Rangers are the railing.
With the tying run on second and no one out, the Rangers infielders huddled around Cole Hamels to discuss whether they wanted to make more errors.
Rougned Odor: I just got really sleepy all of a sudden. Mike Maddux’s shoulder was so soft, and the crowd was so loud. It seemed like it would be nicer not to be awake.
Toronto second baseman Ryan Goins, who led the Jays with seven sacrifice bunts, came to the plate with the whole world aware he was about to drop one down. Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre pounced in plenty of time, but his throw clanked off of Andrus’s glove for the Rangers’ third consecutive error. It was the first time a team had made three errors in one inning of a winner-take-all playoff game.
Adrian Beltre: It was a perfect feed, and he just dropped it. For a second, I thought it was one of his pranks. You know, pretending to catch a popup, trying to touch my head. And then I thought, it’s Game 5 of the ALDS. Dude’s not going to risk the season just to mess with me. Right? There’s no way.
Shit. Now I’m not sure.
The next batter, outfielder Ben Revere, grounded to Moreland, who threw on a line to Gimenez. Dalton Pompey, pinch running for Martin, slid into home and swept Gimenez’s feet out from under him, but the ball beat him to the plate. The Rangers had recorded an out. Texas manager Jeff Banister called for a review of Pompey’s slide to see whether he’d done anything Utleyesque.
Scott: This time the replay ump answered. I was like, “Where were you when we called before?” And he was like, “Huh? I didn’t hear it ring.” So I said, “Didn’t you see us on TV when we were trying to reach you?” And he said, “I must’ve been in the bathroom. By the way, correct call on Pompey.” Then he hung up.
With the right-handed Donaldson up, Banister replaced Hamels with righty reliever Sam Dyson. On the third pitch of the at-bat, a 99 mph sinker, Donaldson lofted a weak pop to second that Odor didn’t catch.
Odor: I was still sort of sleepy. Also sort of psyched out by this one weird Jays fan who was staring into my eyes. Sometimes I dream he’s still sitting there, smiling and sniffing his fingers like a male Mary Katherine Gallagher.
That brought up outfielder Jose Bautista, who fouled off Dyson’s first pitch, took the second for a ball, then hit the third, a 97 mph sinker, 442 feet for a 6-3 lead.
Jose Bautista: The only feeling I can compare it to … It was like after you follow your 500,000th person on Twitter, the rush you get when you look at your feed and see the tweets scrolling by in a blur. Sometimes I stare at the screen so long I convince myself I can almost make out individual messages. Then I follow more people so I don’t actually have to see what anyone says. But that’s what it was like with Dyson’s sinker: Each seam stood out like a little tell, revealing which way the ball would break. I was born for that bat flip. They told me later that the homer made Harold Reynolds silent for 78 seconds, which no one knew was possible.
It’s not a big bat flip unless it leads to bad blood. And shortly after Bautista’s Rich Aude–ian display, both benches obliged, thanks to Dyson’s misinterpretation of Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion’s attempt to soothe the rowdy Canadian crowd.
Sam Dyson: I thought he was doing a Gladiator, you know, “Are you not entertained?” I had to say something. Bautista beat me, fine, but that didn’t mean Encarnacion could Crowe about it.
When Bautista made it back to the dugout, he was embraced by every Blue Jay but one, whose no-sell was conspicuous.
Josh Donaldson: I wasn’t trying to take anything away from Bautista. I just felt like the tough part was tying, you know? Anyone can hit a homer once the pressure is off and the pitcher is rattled by the MVP front-runner’s perfect popup placement.
Meanwhile, debris rained down from above as the strung-out Ontarians, feeling their oats for the first time, made a seamless transition from angry beer barrage to celebratory beer barrage.
Tom Farrell (head groundskeeper): You have to understand what it’s like to be the grounds crew at a stadium with a turf field and a retractable roof. You don’t get to roll out the tarp when it rains. You don’t get to mow logos into the outfield grass. God, the looks we got at the Groundskeeper Conference. After half a season you lose any sense of self-respect.
But then the sky started falling, and we were the only people who could pick up its pieces and place them into clear plastic bags. Maybe it was a black day for baseball, but it was a banner day for us. This was what we’d trained for. And for a few minutes, a national audience had its eyes on us. We didn’t disappoint.
The insanity was almost at an end. Encarnacion and first baseman Chris Colabello singled, but the rally, and the inning, concluded when Dyson got short stop Troy Tulowitzki to pop up. Or so it seemed for a few peaceful seconds.
Dyson: When Encarnacion reached second, I saw Odor give him a companionable butt pat. As far as I could tell, it went over well.
So when I was walking back to the dugout, I tried it on Tulo. I thought it was kind of a Christmas truce — you know, “We may have been on opposite sides, but we both survived the seventh.” It didn’t work that way. Maybe it was my technique, or my timing. Or maybe Beltre’s head and Tulo’s butt are built from the same super-sensitive substance.
Goins: It was too much for me, both benches clearing again just when we thought it was over. Something snapped. It was like I could sense the Earth’s rotation and feel myself flying off its surface. I needed to hold on to something solid. And Tulo was the largest solid in sight. I rocked him like a baby until he relaxed about the butt pat and I believed in gravity again.
Anonymous Groundskeeper [name redacted]: I legit walked away with third base while everyone was figuring out how angry to be about the butt pat. That’s how out of it everyone was. They actually played the rest of the game without the third-base bag, which is one reason why the Rangers couldn’t come back.
High in the stands, nursing his bitterness about his team’s swift exit from October at the hands of an unbeatable pitcher, one Pirates fan presided, watching baseball burn.
John Thorn (official historian for Major League Baseball): Want to win a bar bet? This fact’s for free: Blue Jays–Rangers Game 5 wasn’t actually MLB’s last gasp. There was another game that night. Seriously: Osuna struck out Venable, the dugout did a dogpile, and sweaty, delirious dudes stood in foul territory and tried to tell reporters “what went through their minds.” Ten minutes later, the Royals and Astros went at it as if there were still something at stake, not knowing it was too late to salvage their sport. Anyone who’d watched was in shock, but baseball players blindly went about their business because the alternative was too terrifying to contemplate. They were trying to impose some semblance of order on a pursuit that no longer made sense. I’m pretty sure no one watched.
Rob Manfred (MLB commissioner): What people forget is that baseball was in pretty decent shape before the seventh started. Record revenues, charismatic young players, a commissioner under 80 years old. Granted, the games were kinda boring, but we were working on that. I can tell you this: Before that ball hit Choo’s bat, we were fully expecting our sport to exist in 2016.
After that inning, though, it just sort of … seemed like the time, you know? Look, we had a good run. But you have to know when to walk away. And no series of events has ever made a sport simultaneously seem so exciting and so completely pointless to play. After we’d given the fans a hit of pure randomness, we couldn’t go back to boring, moderately predictable baseball. But once the audience had seen the craziness behind the curtain — how flimsy wins and losses were — we couldn’t convince them that any outcome mattered. The box score said only Texas lost. Maybe. But no one won.
Filed Under: 2015 MLB Playoffs, MLB, MLB Playoffs, ALDS, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, Russell Martin, Sam Dyson, Cole Hamels, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Adrian Beltre, oral history, Baseball, Ben Lindbergh, Parody