There are a lot of ways to lose a baseball game, but the Houston Astros managed to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 on Saturday night in one of the most annoying ways possible: a balk.
Let’s set the scene. It’s the bottom of the eighth inning, the score tied 7-7. Astros reliever Ryne Stanek is pitching to Miguel Rojas with runners on second and third with two outs. The game hangs in the balance. Then, the home plate umpire calls a balk, which brings in the go-ahead run for the Dodgers. Stanek is not pleased.
So was it a balk? Let’s go to the rulebook. According to Rule 6.02(a), if a pitcher comes set on the mound and his foot touches or swings past the rubber, he can’t step off and must pitch to the batter. When a pitcher comes set and then steps off, that’s a balk.
Using the definition from the 2023 MLB rulebook, Stanek executed a textbook balk. He came set on the mound, his foot was touching the rubber, then his right knee moved and he stepped off instead of throwing a pitch. Kids learning about the rules of baseball could be shown that clip, and they’d have a pretty solid idea of what a balk is.
Stanek didn’t see it that way. He was pretty upset after the balk was called, but managed to get himself together and keep pitching instead of being ejected right then and there. He waited until he’d struck out Michael Busch to lose his cool, and did he ever. Second-base umpire Junior Valentine let Stanek get in maybe two seconds of hair-flapping rage yelling before ejecting him. And manager Dusty Baker, who is always in the mood to give an umpire a good talking-to, came out to defend his player and promptly got ejected as well.
Following the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he doesn’t love it when a deciding run scores on a rule violation instead of an actual baseball play, but the umpires got it right in this case.
The umpires got it right, but the home-plate umpire didn’t identify the balk on his own. The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya spoke to Rojas (the batter during Stanek’s balk), who said he identified the balk and pointed it out to the home-plate umpire. Sometimes, following the rules can work out in your favor.