Originally written on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 7/23/12

There are rules in baseball that are somewhat imprecise in nature. The check swing for example. Did he go? Could be! I don’t know! Another one along those lines is the balk. Sometimes the umpire sees a pitcher commit a balk but no amount of slow motion video can make it clear whether he did or didn’t do it. Half the time it seems balks are imperceptible to even those calling them. I mean if you look at a pitcher closely enough, you’re bound to see something.

It’s similar to staring at a statue waiting for it to move. If I watch closely enough, maybe I’ll convince myself I saw something. Even if I didn’t. Because it’s a statue.

Then there are the odd times when a balk is so obvious, so totally blatant, that people in line for the bathroom at the park can tell it happened. This is one such time.

Franklin Morales has been doing a bang up job as a fill-in in the Red Sox starting rotation. In this particular game, Morales did a fine job shutting down the Rays un-vaunted offense. After three innings the Red Sox led, 3-0. However, there was a point in the fourth inning when it looked like things might come undone. After getting the first two outs of the inning, Morales walked both B.J. Upton and Jeff Keppinger on full counts.

Then up stepped Sean Rodriguez. Morales missed wide with two curve balls and low with a fastball. Then he did this:

Not like you need one to identify it, but just for fun, here it is from a different angle.       

And finally, because this is America*, in slow motion:

* Or Canada. Or a different country. Either way.

A few observations:

1. The man in the first row to the right of the batter just above the word “fans” in the Rays phone number is doing quite the little dance. The balk stops him in his tracks. He has the following internal monologue:

Man: Yeah yeah, dancey dancey dancey

Man: Yeah yeah [clap clap clap]

Man: Oh....

2. There’s a slight hesitation from Morales immediately after he realizes he has totally screwed up. In that hesitation is a glimmer of hope. “Maybe if I still throw the ball I’ll still be able to …. No. Crap.”

3. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia sees it and does the lean-back, “Oooooh, maaaaaan.” Then, because this is a GIF, he does it again. And again. And again*. Aren’t GIFs wonderful?

*And again

4. The lady in the blue just above the “R” in the “Crown” sign manages to keep her head turned away from the play the whole time. She starts by looking at first base but just as Morales goes to throw the ball to first she turns her head to look all the way over at third base. What is she looking at? My guess: the dancing guy.

The balk elicited the following responses from the Rays television crews.

Rays Play-by-play Announcer: …start of a move and he just balked. Right there! He balked, realized in the middle of it he balked and then tried to toss it over there anyway. Perhaps that’s a double balk. [laughs]

Color Guy: [laughs] That’s a pitcher right there who is in his own head.

I’d have the Red Sox stuff for you too, but MLB.tv was down at the time and only had the Rays telecast available. So I’ll just make up what they said.

Don Orsillo (Red Sox play-by play): Morales goes to throw over there and… ? They’re saying he balked... He balked? I don’t see it.

Jerry Remy (Red Sox color guy): I don’t either, Don. It looks like the Red Sox are getting framed again. What is that umpire looking at? I have no idea.

In the end, the balk ended up not mattering. Morales walked Rodriguez a pitch later and then, with the bases loaded, struck out Luke Scott. Inning over, threat over.

As for the balk itself, if you watch the second GIF above, it looks to me like the culprit may have been first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who was either late getting over to cover first or for whatever reason (missed a sign?) wasn’t expecting the throw that Morales was prepared to give. So Morales was forced to cut his throwing motion off half way through. The part that makes this interesting enough that I’d stay up until one o’clock in the morning to write 800 words about it a week after it happened is that after obviously stopping and balking, Morales though, “Hey, maybe nobody noticed!” and threw the ball anyway.

We noticed, Franklin. If you’re sure of nothing else in your life be sure of this: we noticed.

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