A walk-off hit in baseball is a coiled spring kind of play. There’s tension, stillness, and then a sudden crack that releases a burst of emotion as the winning runner heads home. A walk-off balk, on the other hand, is victory via clerical error. There’s confusion, some consultation, and then the bemused joy of being ushered along by the umpires. That’s how the Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 10th inning on Saturday. It was the 22nd walk-off balk in MLB history.
With the bases loaded and one man out, Dodgers reliever Dylan Floro briefly initiated his pitching motion by slightly bending his leg. He then stepped off the mound, and the first-base umpire called him for a balk. Cameron Maybin jogged home, and the Mariners won, 5-4.
There was little argument from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “That was a tough one,” he said after the game. “It’s (a balk) obviously when you’re trying to deceive the runner. Obviously, there was no intent to deceive. I thought he stepped off in time, but I looked back at the replay and there was a little bit of a buckle of the knee.”
One would assume the manager of a team in the midst of a tight playoff race would show a little more anger after losing in such bizarre fashion, but that is the beauty of the walk-off balk. It soaks up all the fire and emotion of a close baseball game and converts it into a faint, whistling fart of an ending.
No one has to exert any energy during a walk-off balk. It is the closest thing in sports to a director yelling, “Cut!” There’s no grounder to chase or crashing play at the plate. Everything abruptly stops as if someone turned off the XBox. It sparks the sudden and collective realization that this is a game bound by arbitrary rules, and the only reason the guys on the field follow those rules is because the game would cease to exist if they didn’t.
A looping single can’t impart that kind of existential clarity, so tip your cap to the walk-off balk.
Correction, August 19, 2:30 p.m.: The Mariners beat the Dodgers 5-4 on Saturday, not Friday.