On a day when Jose Bautista took the spotlight in Toronto, hitting his 50th home run of the season, he took time to acknowledge that history was made, and not only by him.
In Thursday’s Blue Jay win over the Seattle Mariners, Bautista’s homer marked the only run of the entire game. Though both team’s offences were stifled by good pitching, Ichiro Suzuki managed to get two hits, the second one being his 200th.
“It’s unbelievable,” Bautista said of Ichiro’s 10th consecutive 200-hit season. “I’m fortunate I got to witness that. He’s a great hitter, with great hand-eye coordination. He can barrel balls in and out of the zone like Vladimir Guerrero. And he’s got the speed element to go with it.
“He’s just a great hitter. He has a nice swing, and he keeps it in the zone a lot. The most amazing thing to me is that he actually starts running before he’s done with his swing. To have the ability to swing and run at the same time, to me is just amazing.”
Fortunately for Bautista, he doesn’t have to worry about doing those two things at once when he is launching balls out of the park.
The right fielder became only the 26th player in Major League history, and the 19th in the AL to reach the 50-home run milestone on Thursday.
Bautista’s big hit came in the bottom of the first inning off Seattle starter Felix Hernandez, who threw a two-hit, complete game at Toronto. With 14 at-bats since home run 49, the slugger felt good about No. 50 right off the bat.
“I felt like it had a pretty good chance, being in the outfield for the first half of the inning, I kind of felt the wind blowing out to left,” Bautista said. “And it wasn’t the best swing, but I hit it on the barrel, and good enough for it to go out.
“It was a great feeling, knowing that I got it over with. I know a lot of people were waiting for it, probably more than me. I’m just really happy and proud that I accomplished it.”
Two of the people that were waiting for Bautista’s milestone hit were his parents, who attended Thursday’s game and witnessed their son’s accomplishment.
“My parents are in town,” Bautista said. “They were in the stands, and I tried to wave at them. Everybody was standing up, so I don’t think they could see me.
“But afterwards, when I came down from defense, I waved at them and I’m just glad they were here.”
The last time that number was accomplished in a season was in 2007 when Prince Fielder (50) and Alex Rodriguez (54) both joined the selected home run club.
“It’s just a really big honour to be put in that elite group of hitters,” Bautista said. “And to tell you the truth, I really haven’t let it sink in yet. I haven’t thought about it too much. So, once I do that, I will probably have more feelings to describe. But right now, I’m just really honoured, and happy.”
Bautista’s previous career-high for home runs in a season was 16, and he credits the Blue Jays with giving him the chance for the success he’s found.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “But I think the most important thing was that I came to this organization in the critical point of my career. I needed another chance, and I found it here.”
The journeyman came to the Blue Jays organization from Pittsburgh in 2008, and has found consistency with Toronto that he didn’t have with the Pirates.
“I don’t really know what caused me to fall out of favour in Pittsburgh,” Bautista said. “I was given an opportunity to play everyday in 2007, and I didn’t have the best year.
“Coming into the next season, I was told I was going to be the starting third basemen, and then a lot of things changed right after the second week of the season. I don’t think I was given a fair chance to be an everyday player, and put up the type of numbers they would have hoped.”
Bautista has exceeded any and all expectations set for him by the Blue Jays organization, but manager Cito Gaston always saw his potential.
“I’ve seen Bautista play before he got here, and he’s always had a good swing,” Gaston said in the post-game press conference. “And I think the big key with Bautista, and I say this day in and day out, is that he’s coachable.
“Anytime you’re coachable, you have a chance to improve and get better. When you’re not coachable, you don’t get better.”
Even in Gaston’s illustrious career, with more than 900 victories, Thursday’s game stands out as one he said he will not forget.
“It’s a big day today,” Gaston said. “We got to see some things happen today that I’ve never seen before. 10 years for [Ichiro], he has 200 hits.
“And of course, Bautista hitting the home run. He ended up getting the winning run, too, so that’s big also. Quite a day today. It’s a day that I will always remember, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people will.”