For all of you that got to watch the A’s take on the Tigers live on MLB Network today, I am truly envious. For those that didn’t let me set the stage.
If you didn’t know already, the A’s topped the Tigers 6-3. It was a close game for about half an inning, but then the A’s blasted two home runs off of Anibal Sanchez in the fifth to provide the margin of victory, and they had led 3-0 before the Tigers staged a three-run rally in the fourth.
It was a huge victory for Oakland, but it was surely a crushing defeat for Detroit since A) they lost at home to go down 2-1 and face elimination in Game 4, B) Sanchez, who only gave up nine home runs all season, gave up three in one game, and C) the A’s beat them at their own game, launching balls out of the park and relying on their starting pitcher to go out there and get it done.
So when Grant Balfour took the mound in the ninth to close it out, there probably wasn’t a ton of smiling going on in the Tigers’ dugout. One person who may have been wound up a little tight was Victor Martinez, who was the first batter of the final set of at-bats for Detroit.
After working the count to 1-2 against the left-handed hitter, Balfour did what he always does: walk off the mound towards the catcher to get the ball back while swearing up a storm. This cadence is typical for the 35-year-old Australian, and it’s been remarked upon and noted frequently around the league.
The A’s and the Tigers played nine times in the regular season, and Balfour appeared in three of them. It’s not as if this is a new thing for him, and Detroit has seen it before. So that made it that much more curious when Martinez barked back at Balfour and sparked a benches-clearing altercation between the two teams.
Here’s the unedited, NSFW video:
Now, here’s the thing: You can see (and hear) clearly by watching the video that Balfour throws the first verbal punch (Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle did a great transcription here), but if there’s one rule about interacting with crazy people – and anyone who walks around frequently in the right parts of San Francisco knows this – it’s don’t make eye contact with them. Is this a case of blaming the victim? Sure. Martinez likely didn’t think he did anything wrong, and once he became the focus of the infamous “Balfour Rage”, he only knew how to react in one way, which was to try to match Balfour’s aggressive craziness with his own brand of aggressive crazy.
Anyone that’s watched Balfour enough knows that is a losing battle. Now yes, it’s the playoffs, and there’s always going to be a little extra edge in each and every game, but I’m going to go ahead and place the blame at the feet of Martinez here, if for no other reason than he broke the rule of “You don’t engage the crazy guy yelling at himself”.
In this case, what seemed to set Balfour off was something as benign as eye contact, but that’s the thing with crazy people. They end up making something out of nothing. If they’re known psychopaths, your job is to just stay out of their way, lest you get pulled into their full-on-crazy tornado. For a reference of this personality, see this NSFW scene from the Martin Scorsese classic, Goodfellas.
“I’m not a rookie,” Martinez said, “I won’t be intimidated. Not even the greatest closer acts like that. I don’t take stuff like that. He can stare at me, I don’t care. But I’m not a rookie. I’m not a little kid. I don’t take that from anybody.”
Balfour explains his position later in the piece:
“He gave me the death stare,” Balfour said. “He had his eyes locked on me, like he wanted to come out. So I said, ‘If you want to stare me down, if you have problem with me, come on out. I don’t really care.”’
So there you have it. The rest of Major League Baseball owes Victor Martinez a debt of gratitude, because now every batter that faces Grant Balfour knows, you better go full Jean Valjean and look down when you face the craziest closer to ever close. That actually would be a great walk-in song for Balfour next year. Somebody get the A’s marketing team on the phone, STAT!