O’Flaherty on Bautista: ‘I’m surprised he’s ready to fight again’

Barely one year past the anniversary of Jose Bautista's face absorbed one of the most hellacious punches every thrown on a baseball field, the Toronto veteran nearly incited more fisticuffs Wednesday night in an 8-4 interleague loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park. No punches were thrown, but Braves reliever Eric O'Flaherty let fly with a withering quote about Bautista afterward.

With the Braves leading 8-3 in the eighth inning in a game that had already seen benches and bullpen empty in the seventh inning when Kevin Pillar took offense to being quick-pitched by Braves reliever Jason Motte – no punches were thrown, just a lot of shouting from players on both sides as they gathered around the plate – Bautista raised things from a simmer to a boil in the eighth when he homered off Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty and flipped his bat.

“That’s something that’s making the game tough to watch lately,” O’Flaherty said. “It’s just turned into look-at-me stuff, it’s not even about winning anymore. Guy wants to hit a home run in a five-run game, pimp it, throw the bat around – I mean, I don’t know. It’s frustrating as a pitcher. I didn’t see it at the time, but I saw the video – he looked at me, tried to make eye contact. It’s just tired. We’ve seen it from him, though.”

This wasn’t an epic, bat-flip-for-the-ages like the one that Bautista did against the Rangers in the 2015 playoffs, when he tossed it a good 20 feet in the air in the direction of the Rangers dugout, but given that the Braves led by five runs and bases were empty, the flip and subsequent hard stares from Bautista – that’s still his thing, apparently – incensed the Braves. Jace Peterson, who had replaced first baseman Freddie Freeman after Freeman was hit by a pitch and left the game, exchanged words with Bautista as he rounded first and glared at Peterson.

Then Bautista crossed home plate and stared at Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, who stepped up and told him what he thought of the whole incident.

“I’m not really going to reiterate what was said,” Suzuki said. “Things happen in the heat of the moment. That’s baseball. Things happen and players react, that’s what goes on…. I said what I had to say, he said what he said, then everybody came running in.”

Both benches and bullpens cleared again, and again they were dispersed by umpires and no one was ejected, no punches thrown.

But afterward, O’Flaherty didn’t bite his tongue and let fly with the stinging line of the night.

“I’m surprised he’s ready to fight again after last year,” O’Flaherty said, laughing. “But he’s throwing some looks around so…it’s what it is.”

O’Flaherty was referring to that punch heard round the baseball world on May 15, 2016, when the Rangers’ Rougned Odor hit Bautista with a devastating right hand, after the Texas second baseman took offense to Bautista’s hard slide and then punished him when Bautista dared shove Odor as things escalated.