No apologies or excuses from Jose

By Richard Griffin
Updated: September 24, 2010

Jose Bautista watches his 50th home run just barely clear the wall in left field. The slugger's parents were in the stands cheering him on.

Jose Bautista watches his 50th home run just barely clear the wall in left field. The slugger's parents were in the stands cheering him on.

TORONTO — Slugging Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista became the 26th player in major-league history to reach 50 home runs in a season on Thursday afternoon.

The blast came in the first inning against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

On a 2-1 pitch, Bautista launched a high drive high that barely cleared the fence in left and was retrieved by his teammates in the bullpen. It’s a surprise to some, but not to the man or his manager.

“If you work hard and have the desire to succeed in anything in life, I’ve always believed that you can do anything you want,” Gaston said. “If you’re willing to work hard enough and sacrifice things to do it, it will happen for you.”

“The big thing about Bautista is he’s coachable. Anytime you’re coachable, you have a chance to get better. Anytime you’re not, you don’t get better.”

Bautista was greeted with dugout hugs and high-fives and received a well-deserved curtain call from the small but appreciative matinee crowd. It’s an easy baseball tradition in many other ballparks, but has lately become commonplace for the Jays’ newly shining star.

If Bautista does decide to sign an off-season extension to stay with the Jays and if it does pay off for an organization that has not been lucky over the years in similar cases, then much of the credit, according to the 29-year-old, must go to Gaston and his support, his human touch.

“The most important thing is that I came to this organization in a critical point in my career,” Bautista explained. “I needed another chance and I found it here. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

“Ever since I got here, they told me that they believed in my ability. (Cito) was the one that told me so. I believed that myself as well. All I needed was another chance and I got it here.”

“That and the changes that I made in the approach and the swing have ultimately led to this success. I’m very thankful to the organization for giving me that second chance.”

Bautista, with five-plus years of major-league service, is eligible for arbitration this winter. After 2011 he can become a free agent. Last year, Hernandez, the man Bautista homered against for the milestone, was arbitration-eligible.

The club offered $7.2 million and he demanded $11.5 million. King Felix and the Mariners reached agreement on a lucrative five-year deal. Look for a similar scenario with Bautista.

In the meantime, moments after the game, when he should have been basking in the joy of a job well done, Bautista was forced to address the issue of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. He was asked point-blank if he had ever indulged in the cheater’s juice of choice.

He did not back down.

“Absolutely not,” Bautista said. “I understand (the question) because of the history of what happened in the past. Those days are gone. It’s been six years since we have a new (testing) program in place.”

“It seems to be working. It’s the most strict in all of professional sports. I don’t see why those questions really come up. The only reason why is the history of what happened in the past.

“I don’t think there’s anything else that I can say about it. It’s just something I have to deal with, the questions, and I have all season long. It’s not something that I’m going to back down from because I have nothing to hide so I’m not worried.”

A model of home run consistency all season, Bautista, whose previous season high was 16 homers for the Pirates in 2006, leads Albert Pujols by a bunch and has the most both before and since the all-star break. The consistency bodes well for his future ability to establish himself as a premier slugger.

“To tell you the truth, I really haven’t let it sink in yet,” Bautista said of bettering the single-season highs of Hall of Famers Henry Aaron and Ted Williams. “To me it’s not about how many home runs you hit in one season, but what you do consistently.”

“I feel like I’ve started my career over again once I made these changes to my hitting approach and to my swing. Hopefully, I’ll be as consistent as those guys. I’ll trade any day a high amount in one year for a good 35 for four or five seasons straight.”

The last major leaguers to reach 50 homers in a season prior to Bautista were Prince Fielder of the Brewers and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees in 2007.

Bautista already held the Jays’ record for homers in a season, breaking the mark of 47 set by fellow Dominican George Bell in 1987.