One of the biggest stories from the Orioles offseason was not who they signed but who they didn’t. Back in December, executive vice president of baseball operations made headlines when he recounted how he told the agent of outfielder Jose Bautista he would not be pursuing his client’s services.
“I said, ‘Really? Jose is a villain in Baltimore and I’m not going to go tell our fans that we’re courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they’re not going to be happy.'”
Bautista ended up re-signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, the A.L. East rival that knocked off the Orioles in an extra-innings Wild Card game last October. In a move many didn’t think possible, the Orioles brought back slugger Mark Trumbo on a three-year $37.5 million deal.
In late March, with Opening Day approaching, Duquette doubled down on the Bautista hating.
“Well that was an easy one; our fans just don't like Jose,” he said. “We play those guys 25 times a year and he's the face of the Blue Jays. He's the villain in the play whenever we play the Blue Jays."
He took the opportunity to also laud Trumbo’s working-man bonafides.
“Trumbo is like a working class-type baseball player,” he said. “If he was going to work every day on a construction site, you would understand that he brings that kind of work ethic every day.”
Deadspin pointed out how loaded those comments were, so I don’t really need to drudge that up again, but suffice it to say Jose Bautista does not have many allies here in Baltimore. And naturally, as so often seems to happen, Bautista and Trumbo played major roles in the Opening Day rematch between the Orioles and Blue Jays.
The 45,667 fans in the stands did their best to prove Duquette right, raining boos on Bautista every time he stepped to the plate, and almost every time it seemed like he came to bat in a crucial situation.
With a man on in the bottom of the 1st inning and one out, Bautista came up to face starter Kevin Gausman with a chance to snag an early lead. He grounded out, much to the delight of Baltimoreans everywhere.
The Orioles struck first in the next inning, after Chris Davis lined a ball off the right field wall to score Seth Smith. Davis tried to stretch it into a double, but Bautista threw him out with a bullet. But it wasn’t enough to turn the tide.
In the 5th, with the Orioles ahead 2-1, the Blue Jays had Gausman on the ropes, loading the bases with two walks and a single. And of course Bautista came up with a chance to break the tie with one. He instead popped out behind home plate. Gausman ended up walking in a run, but he got out of the inning with a Troy Tulowitzki groundout.
After the Blue Jays tied the game in the 6th, the Orioles looked poised to win with a walk-off in the bottom of the 9th. With Welington Castillo on first, left fielder Joey Rickard laced a ball toward the right field line that looked like extra bases. Only, Bautista made a diving catch to his left and threw to first to double up Castillo--a brilliant defensive play.
With all the bad blood and karma floating around, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Bautista would break through at the plate, and he got yet another chance in the top of the 11th, with Josh Donaldson at first and two outs. "We don't like you," a small group of fans chanted. He grounded out.
Instead, it was Trumbo who delivered, launching a walk-off home run into the left field stands to end the game in the 11th, 3-2.
After the game, manager Buck Showalter was asked if he thought it was strange to have such similar circumstances between this game and the Wild Card: both lasted 11 innings, both ended with walk-off homers.
“It doesn’t seem weird at all,” he said. “It seems appropriate.”
For Orioles fans waiting all offseason to exact revenge, and presumably Duquette, who cast Bautista as Baltimore’s most hated villain, it surely did.