Many people believe that Texas reliever Matt Bush hit Jose Bautista on purpose to lead off the eight inning in Arlington on Sunday.
C.J. Nitkowski, however, does not.
“I don’t (think it was intentional),” the MLB analyst said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Now I always say that I always lean unintentional for guys. Sometimes I’m going to be wrong in that, but I always have a tendency to lean in that direction anyway and kind of give them the benefit of the doubt. What could have happened – and what I think is definitely a realistic possibility – remember they scored all those runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take the lead. They scored four runs. So they were down by a couple. They very well could’ve told Matt Bush (to hit Jose Bautista) when they were (still) down a couple of runs. Well, then they went out and they scored four runs and the game changed. It’s very possible that nobody said anything else, if that’s what’s transpired. I’m not saying it definitely did, but it is possible. With that scenario, you do not hit him. But with other one, if you felt like you owed him something, that wouldn’t have been a terrible time to do it.”
Bautista, of course, then slid hard into second base to break up a double play, taking out Rougned Odor in the process.
“That is an illegal slide now,” Nitkowski said. “It hadn’t been in the past – or at least it wasn’t enforced. It was absolutely late. Odor knew it. He knew right away it was a late slide. There was already some tension between these two teams anyway. It’s not uncommon, either. If you hit a guy like the way Jose Bautista was hit, it’s not uncommon at all for that runner to go hard at a middle infielder if the opportunity presents itself – and that’s exactly what we saw.”
We also saw a boxing match break out in the infield. Odor pushed Bautista almost as soon as Bautista got up from his slide. Then he punched Bautista in the face.
So hard, in fact, that he knocked off Bautista’s sunglasses. And his helmet.
“He didn’t even think twice about it,” Nitkowski said of Odor. “I don’t think Jose Bautista was caught off guard. He jumped up right away as well. I think he knew there was at least a chance there was going to be a confrontation. He was just the slower of the two. There’s an ego bruise there, too.”
It doesn’t help that Odor is 22 and Bautista is 35.
“That’s a significant age difference,” Nitkowski said. “When a younger guy, especially an up-and-comer, beats you to the punch – literally – it’s a little bit embarrassing.”
In the end, the Rangers won the game, 7-6, to take two of three in the series. They were fortunate to come out on top, especially if Bush’s HBP was intentional.
“(Bush has) got to go through Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and try to protect a one-run lead in Texas for a team that won the division the last day of the season last year,” Nitkowski said. “Every game matters. These are huge games. That is not the time to hit Jose Bautista, to put him on base. Edwin Encarnacion has owned the Texas Rangers. It’s just the worst formula you could think of.”