You can probably throw any kind of hyperbole at an elimination game in the playoffs and it would stick. In a win-or-go-home game, the dramatic moments write themselves. Game 5 between the Rangers and Blue Jays was no different.
Toronto could have loaded the bases with nobody out in the second inning, but Troy Tulowitzki struck out looking on a full count. The Blue Jays threatened again in the third when Chris Colabello grounded out with two runners on. And so, the innings piled on, the outs dwindling, the season on the line. Again, these stories write themselves. One team advances. The other goes home having to reconcile with an early playoff exit after a successful six months of baseball. Then Edwin Encarnacion brought the stadium back to life with a game-tying solo home run in the sixth.
So, about that seventh inning. We can start with Rougned Odor racing home to score the go-ahead run when Russell Martin's toss back to Aaron Sanchez caught Shin-Soo Choo's bat and dribbled down the third-base line. The umpires convened, and then did so again, before going to a review. In the meantime, fans threw beer cans from the upper deck, most of them making it to the field, some of them landing in the lower level and drilling people. You couldn't measure the temperature in the building, except to realize that if this was how the series would end, the game wouldn't be the story. Instead, we'd probably all be outside filming videos of a city burning down.
The game was tied. You wait for the hero to emerge, and you head into the seventh inning—162 games plus four postseason contests now down to nine outs for each team. The margin of error shrinks. The story will eventually write itself, but first we had to veer completely off script.
It appeared home plate umpire Dale Scott had called the play dead as Martin made his throw, but admitted to making a mistake afterward in a released statement. "I was mixing up two rules and I called time, but then it started clicking. I went wait a minute, wait a minute, there's no intent on the hitter. He's in the box, the bat's in the box, if he's not out of the box, that throw's live," Scott explained.
The call was upheld after review, and this stood to be the most controversial finish, if only because it seemed like a new way of losing had been invented. But it was far from over. Three consecutive errors committed by the Rangers in the bottom half of the inning, as they bobbled the ball around in the infield, as if some higher power refused to let a series be decided on such a call. The Jays trailed 3-2 when Josh Donaldson stepped to the plate to face reliever Sam Dyson, who was drafted by the Blue Jays and made his debut with the team in 2012. Seven outs left in the season. A year in which the Blue Jays led the league in run differential, in which they took their fans on a magical ride from August on, and then reminded them of the pain that comes with expectations by losing the first two games at home, and then giving them hope that it will be different this time around. To let your guard down a little, to allow yourself to think about being on the other side of a coin flip.
All series, the Jays had played from behind at home. In almost three full games at Rogers Centre, they led for just two-plus innings in Game 2. Two convincing victories in Texas were required to keep the season alive. The home crowd was still waiting, 22 years in counting, for some sort of moment to hang onto.
Donaldson hit an RBI single just out of the reach of Odor's glove to even the score at 3-3. All season, the Jays have been led by the middle of their lineup. Encarnacion and Donaldson had done their part with game-tying hits in back-to-back innings. Seven outs. Tie game. Runners at the corners for Jose Bautista. And then, a three-run homer, one that the city's been waiting over two decades for. Sort through all the craziness of one single inning and forget the bizarre play, the game being played under protest, and all of the anger released in one bat flip. The story ended up not being about that play. It was about Bautista. The hero emerged after all.
Lost in all the commotion of this instant postseason classic was that the Jays became the third team in league history to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series after losing the first two at home. The David Price-Marcus Stroman debate heading into Game 5 didn't matter, either. Similar to Game 2, Stroman allowed the Rangers to get on the board in the opening frame, but settled down to throw six innings of two-run ball, allowing six hits with four strikeouts on 98 pitches. Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna combined to throw the remaining three innings, the lone run on the play that allowed Odor to come home. And the small moments, the stellar defense from Ryan Goins, who went hitless in the series but still proved valuable in an elimination game. Another diving catch from Kevin Pillar, who left a skidmark in the outfield for his efforts, while batting .333 in the ALDS. And you can go on. But those are the details that will be forgotten soon.
You'll remember the inning, though, but all you'll choose to remember is probably the home run. (Although you should remember, for a future trivia night, that Mark Buehrle—not on the playoff roster for the series—was the lone player ejected after the benches cleared twice in the seventh inning.)
Afterward, as the clubhouse celebration unfolded, amidst the flow of champagne and cigar smoke clouding the room, Donaldson and Bautista—who was dressed in a "Toronto vs. Everybody" T-Shirt—met at the corner of the room. "That's my hero right there," Donaldson shouted repeatedly as the two embraced. A first-round win behind them. A chance to exhale once more.