There are runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs in the top of the 9th of a 7-7 game. There is a right-handed pitcher facing a right-handed batter with a 1-2 count.
The catcher gives his sign set. The pitcher nods and starts coming set. He gets to the bottom of his set and rolls through, delivering a tight curveball that ducks out of the zone at the last second. The hitter checks his swing for a ball.
The play appears to be over when the head coach of the batting team comes out to confront the umpire, claiming the pitcher didn’t come set—which he didn’t. The umpires get together and after deliberating for a brief moment, call the balk and let the go-ahead run score. The head coach for the defensive team comes out of the dugout and is furious. He eventually gets thrown out of the game and play resumes. In the end, the run that scores on the balk turns into the game’s winning run.
What Went Wrong:
This play and the way that the umpires reached their decision was anything but ordinary, but the mistake is obvious and the call is the right one. For the pitcher, the lesson here is bigger than “don’t balk” or “make sure you come set”. This balk is likely a direct cause of the way the pitcher trains. In big moments like this where the game is on the line, competitors tend to fall back on their training. So the question becomes, if the balk wasn’t a physical mistake (like the ball slipping out of the pitcher’s hand), what caused him to roll through the stopping point? It’s likely that it is the product of doing the same thing in bullpens or warm-ups. If the pitcher is rushing to get warmed-up before coming in the game, it’s very possible that he rushes through his set point out of necessity. This can build bad habits that translate to game play. In order to avoid having this become his default, the pitcher will have to devote time in normal catch play and bullpens to ensure that he is working on pausing when he comes set. It’s yet another example of how thinking the game doesn’t discriminate between practice and the game. Take a look at this play happen in real life right here and see how the drama unfolds for yourself.
Another positive think the game moment occurred on this play. Can you think what it was? It was the manager coming out to call attention to the balk! It never hurts to check. It’s possible that if the manager came out on a similar play 100 times, the umpires would turn him away 99 times. The walk to home plate is worth it for that victory on trip 100, which in this case translated to a win! Now that’s thinking the game!