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To Balk or Not to Balk?

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Did Colin Rea commit a balk? Was Clint Hurdle acting within the rules? Why was Andy Green so upset?

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

In last night's game, a balk was called on Colin Rea, leading to a Pirates run and an Andy Green ejection. Many of us watching the game were conflicted for various reasons during and after the play. Was it a balk? Why did Green get so fired up? Was Hurdle allowed to discuss with the umpires as he did? I'll try to dig through the various points of this sequence of events.


The Play

Andrew McCutchen was on third base. Since the defense was in a shift, nobody was holding McCutchen. He took a HUGE lead off third and started an even bigger secondary lead. Colin Rea saw this and reacted. His body apparently flinched and he quickly delivered the ball to home plate. John Jaso (the batter) pointed at Rea and turned to home plate umpire Mark Carlson before the ball reached the plate. First base umpire Ryan Blakney called the balk and McCutchen was awarded home plate.

The Conference and Green's Ejection

The umpires converged to determine whether the balk was the correct call. There was some gum chewing, a shrug of the shoulders, and then McCutchen was instructed to return to third base. The balk call had been reversed. Apparently Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wasn't happy about that. He came out to question whether Rea had disengaged with the rubber or altered his delivery. Well, he actually came out twice. The first time he came out, he was displeased but returned to the dugout without winning his point. The second time he came out, he must have had some addition to his argument. Something he said must have struck a chord and the call was reversed. A balk was ruled, and McCutchen was awarded home plate.

Andy Green didn't like this sequence of events one bit. Whether or not the call was correct, Green felt that Hurdle should not have been allowed to argue the balk in the first place, and therefore Hurdle should have been the one sent to the showers. He was mad that Hurdle was allowed to influence the call, and he was mad that the umpires doubled back on a call that had already been reversed once. I don't know of a case where the umpires convened to discuss a call, reversed the call, and then subsequently reversed the call a second time.  Green strongly voiced his displeasure, and was rewarded with a trip to the showers.  Then he went off in an epic manner, showing some fire that we had yet to see in his brief MLB Manager career.  Finally Mark McGwire held him back like a night club bouncer and led him back to the dugout.  Notably, McGwire made his MLB managerial debut as he filled the role capably for the remainder of the game.

So... Was it Actually a Balk?

There are two rules that come in to play here.  I've tried to dig them up in the rulebook to no avail, but here's the general gist of it.  First, a pitcher needs to make his normal throwing motion without any interruptions or deviations.  The flinch and rushed delivery departed from that, which is what Hurdle was initially contending.  He was pitching from the windup and not the stretch, and the rules allow for deviations in delivery from the windup.  A rushed throw home when the pitcher knows that the runner is going isn't anything new, so the umpires decided that it wasn't a balk.  However, he momentarily disengaged from the rubber, and that is the basis that the umpires used to form their ruling.  Apparently this was pointed out during Hurdle's second visit, and it was clearly shown on the screen in the stadium.  Yes, it was a balk, but this leads me to question how Carter Capps got away with jumping a foot in front of the rubber all last year, but I digress.

In the end, the umpires got it right.  Even so, Andy Green had every right to object and then flip his lid after being ejected.  I enjoyed watching the fireworks, and I'd like to think that the display had something to do with the team fighting back and winning the game.  Either way, it was exciting to watch and will stand as an interesting case going forward.  The good news is that the Padres won the game, and we all had fun watching them!