Balfour Rage! Such a phenomenon didn't get its name because Grant Balfour is a quiet guy, someone who just throws his pitches and gets off the field.
No, like many MLB closers, Balfour prepares for the task of closing out ballgames in the ninth inning by amping himself up into a competitive frenzy. Does the Oakland Athletics' closer do it to intimidate opposing hitters? Maybe. Does he do it to fire himself up and strike out the side? Certainly.
However, when you push your temper to the edge like that, it's occasionally going to spill out. Ideally, Balfour's outlet is the act of throwing a baseball and striking a batter out. But when he's challenged or perceives some sort of slight, that anger is going to channel itself outward at someone.
We saw an example of that in Oakland's 6-3 win over the Tigers in Game 3 of the ALDS on Monday. Balfour faced Victor Martinez to lead off the ninth inning and got ahead of the Tigers DH with a one-ball, two-strikes count. Martinez fouled off Balfour's fourth pitch, a 93 mph fastball, high and outside. Then the two began to shout at each other. And the profanities — multiple f-words among them — were completely audible on the MLB Network telecast, with home plate umpire Gary Darling wearing a microphone. Live mic, fellas! Live mic!
The situation escalated quickly as Balfour stepped off the mound to confront Martinez, who was walking out toward the pitcher. Darling and A's catcher Derek Norris stepped between the two before anything else could happen. But by the time any parents watching with their children covered up their kids' presumably unsullied ears with earmuffs, each team's dugout and bullpen cleared onto the field. However, the kerfuffle was defused before any punches were thrown or any other sort of altercation took place.
So what happened out there, fellas? A little hot? Tempers flaring just a bit? Little bit? According to Balfour, Martinez started it by giving him a "death stare" (which you could see on the replay).
"He had his eyes locked on me like he wanted to come out," Balfour said to reporters after the game, including the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser. He then said to Martinez, 'Hey man, if you’ve got a problem, come on out.'"
It was on, brother! Balfour seemed to say something like, "What the f— are you looking at, b—-?" Martinez responded with "F— you, b—-!" There were some more f-words and b-words thrown out from there. (I'm guessing, of course, because the video on MLB.com has all the naughty bits bleeped out.) Martinez also spit out an s-word, according to his postgame comments. (The exact phrasing, as quoted by MLive's James Schmehl, was ""I'm not a rookie. To intimidate me with the little [expletive] like that? I don't take that [expletive].")
All righty then.
Was there any bad blood, any grudge between Balfour and Martinez that led up to this outburst? "No, not at all," Martinez told the Oakland Press' Matthew B. Mowery.
But Balfour does have a history of swearing during games. A lot. (It must actually be quite a lot to receive the attention it has, right? I mean, who doesn't swear during an athletic competition, whether at the professional and college levels, or among weekend warriors?) As A's reliever Sean Doolittle said to MLB.com's Jane Lee, "It was only a matter of time someone took it the wrong way and said something back to him."
The Tigers certainly had plenty to be mad about, like the fact that they've only scored six runs in three games and in two out of 27 innings. In the hours leading up to Game 4 of the ALDS, we may hear and read plenty about how this scrum could fire up the Detroit players, which is exactly what Oakland doesn't want to happen. That is wishful thinking among Tigers fans.
The tempers flaring during that ninth-inning dust-up is pretty much the only energy the Tigers have shown in this series. If Detroit starts hitting and scoring runs in the next game (or two games, if a Game 5 is necessary), it's not going to be because Balfour yelled at Martinez. If that's all it took, Jim Leyland would've spewed out a bunch of f-words, b-words and s-words at his team long ago. Tigers fans would surely love to join in. But at least Balfour Rage and V-Mart gave us some fun video and postgame quotes to enjoy.