Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Balkin’ Bob and Benitez

The terminally .500 Giants hit a new low right after flirting with a new high last night. Lincecum pitched another gem, the bullpen hung on by its fingernails (Ortiz walked two and hit one to load the bases and then squeezed out of it), until Vizquel scratched out a run in the top of the 12th.

Then Benitez gets the ball. He walked Jose Reyes, then balked him to second. And after Reyes was sacrificed to third, Benitez balked him home. Then he gave up a massive home run to Carlos Delgado. Giants lose.

The balk is arguably the most baseball of baseball items. It amounts to the pitcher attempting to deceive the runner in order to induce him to steal inpropitiously. There are a couple of ways to balk ... starting and then stopping your motion or not coming to a full stop before starting the pitch ... but you never really expect it as a fan. When a balk is called, all the runners advance one base, even if that base is home plate. I predicted a balk once at Candlestick, the Giants’ old park, and got kudos from some kid next to me when I was right ... sports fans love calling a shot, and never forget the glee.

The first base umpire was Bob Davidson, famously known as balkin’ Bob for his penchant for calling the balk. The third base umpire was Hunter Wendelstadt, son of the famous umpire Harry Wendelstadt. He called his balk after the tiniest but totally obvious flinch from Benitez who got suckered by the prancing Reyes ... and he called the balk with authority and pizzazz, no doubt about it. It might be an inadvertent flinch, it might not mean anything, it could not conceivably have fooled the runner who was in fact fooling the pitcher (who is a fool, IMHO), but in baseball the umpires are fanatically committed to the integrity of the game.

It is not thus in basketball, whose referees are professionally corrupted by their open awe of stardom, or in football which, to paraphrase George Will, is refereed by a committee of idiots punctuated by blindness. Basketball referees lightly oversee a game that has, at least on the pro level, became a slugfest. There is open talk about how veterans and stars “establish their moves” ... that means they get away with traveling because they have done it so many times.

Not in baseball. The umpires are deeply integrated into the game which they defend as a point of honor. My fantasy sports job ... in the sense of the lie that “you can be anything you want if you only try try try hard enough” ... is major league umpire.

That said, balkin Bob got a little excited at first and probably figured it was a balk because Benitez is such a moron.

First pic is Benitez appealing to the clouds for some sympathy (he gets none down here on earth). The pic below is Lincecum whose crazy journey is too sweet for words right now.

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