October 06, 2016 - 5:55 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas - It was only fitting that Jose Bautista wore a black hat to meet the media in Texas on Wednesday.
The Blue Jays slugger will be the villain at Globe Life Park on Thursday when Toronto opens the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.
Bautista's bat flip after a decisive three-run blast in Game 5 of last year's ALDS did not go down well in the Lone Star State. The bad blood boiled to the surface in May when Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face after objecting to a slide. That led to more ugliness as the benches emptied.
"They might have their reasons to dislike me, if they choose to do that," Bautista said of the rivalry. "I think I have a couple more reasons to dislike them. But I'm not thinking about that, I'm not focused on that. I'm looking to beat them and move on to the next series."
Told he can expect boos, Bautista said: "That's OK. I've been booed before."
When a reporter reeled off several cities where Bautista was not thought of favourably, the right-fielder demurred.
"I think the only other place where I'm kind of disliked is Kansas City. I guess they have their reasons too," he said.
"I don't think I take pride in being a hated guy. Absolutely not," he added. "I don't think I'm a guy who does things purposely to get hated. If me helping my team win ball games and me having to go about it the way that I have to in order to be the best player I can be, make some people hate me, so be it."
The 35-year-old Bautista, who is eligible for free agency in the off-season, says he is not bothered "too much" by people who have a negative view of him.
"What can I do? Start some sort of nationwide tour to prove to people that I'm a nice guy."
And he looked for a positive.
"I'm sure there's more people that actually like me than the ones that don't. It's just that the ones that don't seem to be a little bit more loud."
The Jays had an early start to the day. After their wild-card party finally ended at the Rogers Centre, their charter to Texas didn't arrive until 5 a.m.
"It was a little rowdy at first. We were all very excited, obviously," said pitcher Marco Estrada, who will start Game 1. "But the longer we were in the air, the more quiet it got."
The Jays landed in familiar territory, having played the Rangers last year at this stage of the playoffs. John Gibbons found himself back in the visiting manager's office, complete with a giant Texas longhorn mounted on the wall.
Outside, 30-plus-degree heat offered a stark contrast to more temperate Toronto temperatures.
Gibbons, who calls San Antonio home, enjoys returning to Texas. "I love it," he said with a smile.
"This is home," he said. "Not quite home but it's very close. We're proud down here, man. Just like you're proud up there (in Canada)."
The mounted horn brings back memories for Gibbons. His parents bought him a similar set as a kid and he put it up on his bedroom wall.
Gibbons announced his starting rotation for the showdown in Texas, with Estrada, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez going in order, as they did the last three games of the regular season. Marcus Stroman, who started Tuesday's wild-card game, is expected to be front and centre in Game 4, if necessary.
Texas counters with left-hander Cole Hamels on Thursday and right-hander Yu Darvish on Friday.
The Jays have to make two lineup decisions from their wild-card roster, which did not include Happ or Sanchez because they had just pitched.
Gibbons also said closer Roberto Osuna is feeling better, and the shoulder tweak that caused him to leave Tuesday's wild-card game is not a serious issue.
"All indications are it's not a big deal," Gibbons said. "But it's late in the season too. He's thrown a lot. So you've got to be extra careful with him."
Catcher Russell Martin was also pronounced OK after getting a few stitches from a cut finger sustained in the on-field celebration following the 5-2 win over Baltimore.
"Celebration and brawls haven't been too good for us," Gibbons said wryly. "We're OK in games. Games, we're doing OK."
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016