The fiery series between the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays has once again put bat flips under the spotlight.
On Wednesday, Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista caused a firestorm by hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning, with the Blue Jays trailing 8-3, staring down Atlanta's Eric O'Flaherty, then flipping his bat.
Bautista, of course, owns one of the most famous bat flips in MLB history.
The optics of Wednesday's bat flip, however, were not great, given the Blue Jays' deficit in the game. Braves first baseman Jace Peterson had words with Bautista as he rounded the bases, as did catcher Kurt Suzuki when Bautista reached home. Benches cleared, but no punches were thrown.
On Thursday, as was expected, the Braves got their revenge, beaming Bautista in the leg, just one pitch after they threw mightily close to his feet.
How badly did the Braves want revenge? That was the fastest pitch Julio Teheran has thrown in two years.
Both dugouts were issued warnings, and the game continued without much more drama as the Jays won 9-0. It was just another ugly incident in a series that featured benches clearing following Bautista's homer, a pitch that fractured the wrist of Braves slugger Freddie Freeman, and another bench-clearing that resulted in Jays' center fielder Kevin Pillar being suspended by the team for using a homophobic slur.
On Wednesday, O'Flaherty blasted Bautista, saying the bat flip was a "look-at-me" move.
"That's something that's making the game tough to watch lately. It's just turned into 'look-at-me' stuff. It's not even about winning anymore. Guy wants to hit a home run in a five-run game, pimp it, throw the bat around. It's frustrating as a pitcher ... It's just tired, we've seen it from him enough."
Bautista, however, defended himself, saying, "It's part of the game, it's emotion. Sometimes it's fitting, sometimes it's not. Just like people celebrate after defensive plays and big strikeouts, I think it's part of the game ... Sometimes our competitive juices come out in the wrong moment." Bautista did seem to try to diffuse the situation by also saying he wasn't trying to "show anybody up."
The baseball world seems in agreement that celebrations are okay, but that Bautista's recent bat flip came at the wrong moment.
ESPN's Dave Schoenfield mocked Bautista's timing:
"I'm not against Bautista having fun playing baseball. But this wasn't him enjoying the moment; this was him being a jerk simply for the sake of being a jerk. It's an NBA player dunking and hanging on the rim when down by 35 points. It's celebrating a touchdown when you're losing by 28. It's ego over team."
ESPN MLB analyst and former Yankees first baseman Mark Texeira told YES Network that Bautista shouldn't have been celebrating while the Jays were down, but, more interestingly, he said players just don't like Bautista.
"I don't mind in a big situation, game-winning home run, game-tying home run late in the game, you wanna show some emotion. They're down 8-3 in the late innings. There's no reason for that one. The fact of the matter is is that no one really likes Jose Bautista, let's be honest. If any other player would have done that, we wouldn't be talking about it ... I can see why a lot of pitches especially and catchers don't like the way that he acts."
However, it's not just Bautista who has been affected by baseball's unwritten rules. Earlier in May, the Red Sox and Orioles had a series of ugly incidents stemming from Manny Machado sliding into Dustin Pedroia at second base. Machado was thrown at once, then took his time rounding the bases after a home run. The next game, Chris Sale beamed him with a pitch, leading Machado to go off on profane a postgame rant, calling it "F---ing bull----."
While opponents understandably get angry when players celebrate or taunt after a big moment (or in the case of Bautista, a rather mundane moment), but there's real danger in intentionally hitting a player. It's not a stretch to imagine one of these revenge pitches going too far and seriously injuring someone. And eventually, MLB is going to have to step in and do something.