In light of the Mets’ disappointing loss to the San Fran Giants last night, many are pointing fingers at Pelfrey’s three balks being the reason for the loss after winning the first three games of the series (though the lack of runs certainly didn’t help). If you’re any other average baseball fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about and are probably shaking your head with me. But just in case you happen to be a casual fan and might think a balk is a sound an angry chicken makes, here’s a quick history lesson for you.There are several qualifications (13 subsections) and motions a pitcher can make that constitute a balk, but I will try to summarize for simplicity’s sake. In baseball, there are two legal pitching positions: the Windup Position and the Set Position. Each has a specific set rules of motion that the pitcher can carry out, and if any rules are broken or an illegal motion is made, a balk can be called. With runners on base, some of the balks we see include beginning the delivery and not completing (which Pelfrey did with balk #1 after tripping), delivering a pitch while not in contact with the pitching rubber, throwing or feigning a throw to a base without stepping in the direction of the base, and not coming to a complete stop in the set position before beginning motion of delivery. Why would this rule exist? Mainly to protect the runners from being unfairly deceived.
Though mentioned in earlier publications, the balk rule pertaining to runners on base was first recognized in 1898. Probably one of the most memorable seasons for balks had to be the balk crackdown in 1988. The National League was already seeing a higher number of balks than the AL and only saw an increase from 219 to 336 from 1987. The American League however saw an increase over 400%, going from 137 to 558. Why were so many called this year? The wording was changed to “single and complete discernable stop, with both feet on the ground” once the pitcher comes in to the set position. The spike raised such concern that year and had every pitcher on their toes that the wording was restored to its original “complete stop”, dropping “discernable”, and balks have not seen that large of a hike since.
At least the Dodgers were able to prevail amidst the crazy balk rule in just five games against Oakland that October.
Pelf seemingly couldn’t help the first of his three balks last night, and looked rather surprised by one of the other two. However, he did manage to tie a 46 year old Mets record set in 1963 by Don Rowe with three balks in one game, and was also the first major league pitcher to do so in fifteen years since Al Leiter did in 1994. The balks did cost the Mets the two runs which did eventually contribute to their 2-0 loss, though not all of the weight can be put on Pelf. After such a stellar display of hitting Saturday, they will need to pull things together offensively as well as taking more care defensively, and generally taking better care of themselves. Between the balking and nearly everyone playing in positions they aren’t usually seen in due to several injuries, Sunday proved to be a great disappointment after such a promising start to the series.
Don’t worry, Big Pelf. This Met lady still loves you!