With one out in the top of the ninth, Toronto winning 9-5, John Gibbons called for a defensive replacement – and the Rogers Centre went wild.
Jose Bautista jogged in from right field for what may be the last time as a Blue Jay, in front of 47,394 fans. Toronto’s longest tenured player hugged his teammates before saluting the crowd.
A final curtain call for Joey Bats. pic.twitter.com/yF08QLePIV
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 24, 2017
“It’s given us opportunity to say goodbye,” said Jays fan Andre Doucette before Sunday’s game, an idea echoed by his wife, Angelina.
“(Bautista’s) going to to be remembered fondly,” she said. “We’re all going to look back on the good times.”
Since the Jays dealt for Bautista mid-season in 2008, he has hit 287 home runs, made six all star appearances, and has been top-10 in MVP voting four times. He did this all while resurrecting a franchise that had not seen playoff baseball since 1993.
“You are going to have a hard time replacing his leadership, that’s for sure,” said Tom Elford, asked about Bautista’s possible departure. “That’s some big shoes to fill.
“He’s never air mailed a performance ever, all these years he’s played injured, banged up toes and fingers and all that. That’s a high standard.”
Asked what moment defied Bautista’s Blue Jays tenure, Elford, like most fans, spoke of the 2015 ALDS Game five home run known simply as the “bat flip.”
With that swing Bautista hit the club’s biggest home run since Joe Carter walked off the 1993 World Series.
Geoff Castle and Dustin Jones who were both in town from Calgary agreed that the bat flip was Bautista at his best.
“Best bat flip ever,” Geoff said.
“He became the face of the team,” Dustin added. “Especially in western Canada, where we don’t get to see it that often, he became the face of the franchise.”
When Bautista arrived in Toronto at 28, the team was dominated by stars such as Vernon Wells, Roy Halladay, and Alexis Rios. But all of these players would be traded by the time Bautista had his 54 home run, breakout campaign in 2010.
For Jays fan Orville Briscoe, who came down from Georgetown for Sunday’s game, what makes Bautista special is “his clutch moments.
“Hitting at the right time and the right place.”
The popular belief is that Bautista’s 10-year career in Toronto will come to an end after this year. But according to the man himself a reunion in 2018 is still a possibility.
“I know I want to come back,” Bautista said in a post game interview. “I’ve always been clear about that, that’s never changed.
“I’d be stupid not to.”
After a disappointing 2017 in which he has batted .201, with only 22 home runs, it’s highly unlikely that the team would exercise the 36 year old’s $17 million option.
Bautista did not disappoint the Blue Jays faithful on Sunday, going 2-4, with a RBI, and a run in his final home game of the season.