Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays right fielder, became the 26th player in major league history to hit 50 home runs when he launched a Felix Hernandez pitch into the left field bullpen in the first inning of a 1-0 Toronto win.

It’s a special number, no doubt.

Nobody in baseball has done it since 2007, when both Prince Fielder (50) and Alex Rodriguez (54) accomplished the feat. Other players on the list include Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Andruw Jones, and a few other guys who probably know their way around a pharmaceutical supply store (Bonds, Sosa, McGwire).

But Jose Bautista?

This is a guy whose previous career high in home runs was 16 in 2006, his first season as a regular player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The next three years his production stayed very consistent, hitting 15, 15, and then 13 in 2009 in his first full season with Toronto.

So how does he get to his current total of 52 seemingly overnight?

The popular answer in today’s modern era is through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But Bautista flatly denies the idea.

“Absolutely not,” he 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.”

So unless Bautista discovered an untestable drug that somehow eluded the rest of baseball (Manny Ramirez still probably has a team of scientists on speed dial), the odds of him juicing are virtually zero.

But the astronomical rise in production is still astonishing. Bautista‘s slugging percentage has never been above .420. This year it’s .635. 

At 6’0″ and 195 pounds, Bautista does have the body to be an elite power hitter. He’s also only 29 years old and may just be entering his prime.

We’ll know more about whether Bautista is the real deal or a one-year wonder (Luis Gonzalez) after next year. In the meantime, the best explanation for his sudden prowess is the change of scenery and his comfort within a new system.

After all, who has succeeded recently as a Pittsburgh Pirate?

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