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Cards Walk it Off and Beat Reds 5-4 with 3 Runs in Wild Ninth

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A discussion of the Iglesias balk

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

As the Cards began the bottom of the 9th down 4-2, I was preparing to write a recap that took the position that while the Cards lost, it was still a partial win because of the performance of Adam Wainwright. While he got torched on a couple of pitches early in the game and allowed four runs, he was let down a bit by his defense. And once the Reds scored the 4th run in the top of the 3rd, he bore down and retired 15 straight batters, throwing 97 pitches and lasting 7 full innings. After pitching 5 innings in the first game of the Cards’ comeback following the quarantine, Wainwright was our first pitcher who would be tested on his ability to recover in a second start after regular rest. While there were surely some pitches that he would like to have back, he passed the test with flying colors. After the Cardinals just went through a 5-day, 8-game gauntlet in Chicago, it was critical for Wainwright to pitch deep into this game. By doing so, he helped rest a depleted and overused bullpen. And how about Yadier Molina with 3 RBIs in his return after a long, virus-related layoff, and potentially preventing a Reds run by catching a man stealing?

While I was prepared for that to be a narrative, we were treated to a wacky 9th inning where the Cards didn’t quit, an inning that I won’t spoil in this prelude, and ended up with a victory, an undoubetdly uplifting event for the club after a couple of games against the Cubs slipped through their fingers.

Adam Wainwright took the hill for the Cards on a regular 4 days of rest. To start things off, Joey Votto smoked a low-and-in fastball to the right side. Paul Goldschmidt made a nice diving stop, but threw the ball low to Wainwright, who was running to cover 1st base, and the ball got away. The official scorer ruled that Votto reached 1st base on Goldschmidt’s throwing error, E1. The ball would have snuck through for a base hit had Goldy not made a diving grab, but a clean throw would have had him at 1st. Nick Castellanos flied an 0-2 inside fastball to right. Jesse Winker grounded an 0-1 hanging curve through the right side for a base hit to move Votto to 2nd. Eugenio Suarez grounded a 1-1 low-and-away cutter right to Brad Miller at 3rd for what should have been an inning-ending double play. But Miller bobbled the ball, and when he picked it up, he threw it over Goldschmidt’s head and to his left. Votto was able to score from 2nd to give the Reds a 1-0 lead and Winker reached 3rd on the play. Mike Moustakas sliced a center-cut fastball for a bloop to left-center. O’Neill made a running and diving catch for a great play. He bounced up and fired to home plate, but not in time to get Winker, who scored on the Sac Fly to give the Reds a 2-0 lead. Shogo Akiyama grounded a first-pitch inside curve to 2nd to end the inning. Reds starter Sonny Gray struck Kolten Wong looking at a 1-2 sinker on the inside corner to start the bottom of the 1st. Tommy Edman looked at 2 fastballs down the middle then struck out swinging at an outside fastball with wicked movement. Goldschmidt lined an outside 2-2 slider towards the line at 1st, but Votto was guarding the line and grabbed it to end the inning.

Josh VanMeter sharply grounded an inside 3-1 cutter down the 1st base line for Goldschmidt, who was guarding the line, to start the top of the 2nd. Freddy Galvis torched an inside 3-1 middle-in 90 mph sinker deep into the right field seats for a solo HR to extend the Reds’ lead to 3-0.

Tucker Barnhart lined a hanging 0-2 curve up the middle for a base hit. Votto then lined a low-and-in cutter to center for a base hit to move Barnhart to 2nd. Castellanos flied a 1-1 hanging cutter deep enough to right to allow Barnhart to advance to 3rd base. Wainwright prevented further damage by getting Winker to ground a first-pitch low curve to 1st to end the inning. After Carpenter worked a 3-2 walk to lead off the bottom of the 2nd, B. Miller lined a low fastball to left-center for a base hit to move Carp to 2nd. Tyler O’Neill drove a center-cut 2-1 fastball to left, but it stalled before the track. Dexter Fowler then walked on 4 pitches to load the bases for Yadier Molina. In his first trip to the plate since July 29th, Molina lined a hanging outside 1-2 slider for a base hit to right. Carpenter scored, and Miller came around 3rd. The throw from Castellanos beat Miller, but it was off-line to the catcher Barnhart’s left, which allowed Miller to stand up and avoid the tag. Molina’s single cut the Reds’ lead to 3-2 and moved Fowler to 2nd.

Dylan Carlson flied a middle-in 3-1 fastball to center just short of the track, deep enough to allow Fowler to advance to 3rd. With runners at the corners and 2 out, Wong grounded a center-cut fastball to 2nd to end the threat.

To start the top of the 3rd, Suarez tapped an outside cutter for a slow roller to 3rd. Miller charged and barehanded the ball, but the throw to first was too late and Suarez had an infield single. Moustakas lined an outside fastball to the gap in right-center that rolled to the wall for a double to score Suarez all the way from first and extend the Reds’ lead to 4-2.

Akiyama grounded a first-pitch cutter to Goldschmidt at first, who was guarding the line and stepped on the bag. Moustakas advance to 3rd on the play. With the infield in, VanMeter ripped a cutter for a sinking liner towards the first base line. Again, Goldschmidt was guarding the line, and reached down and snagged the liner before it could hit the ground. With 2 out, Galvis struck out swinging at an 0-2 curve in the dirt. Molina threw to first to end the inning, and the damage was contained. Edman flied a center-cut 2-0 fastball to left for the first out of the bottom of the 3rd. Goldschmidt worked a 3-2 walk. Carpenter struck out swinging at an elevated 1-2 fastball. B. Miller struck out looking at a 2-2 fastball on the top-right corner of the zone to end the inning.

Barnhart flied a 1-1 hanging curve to center to start the top of the 4th. Votto flied an 0-1 change to center. Castellanos struck out swinging at a 2-2 curve to end the inning, and Wainwright got out of the inning with only 10 pitches. O’Neill fisted an inside fastball on the ground to 2nd to lead off the bottom of the 4th. Fowler flied a center-cut 3-2 fastball to center. Molina drove a center-cut fastball to left-center, but Winker ran it down just before the track to end the inning.

Winker grounded a low-and-in 1-0 cutter to 2nd to lead off the top of the 5th. Suarez grounded an outside 0-2 cutter towards the middle, but Edman slid over, grabbed it and threw him out. Moustakas tapped a 2-1 curve back to the mound, and Wainwright got out of this inning with one fewer pitch than the last. Carlson grounded a 1-1 inside fastball to Votto at 1st to lead off the bottom of the 5th. Wong struck out swinging at a 2-2 curve inside and out of the zone. Edman popped a low-and-in 1-1 curve to shallow left past 3rd base. Winker didn’t call anyone off. Suarez went out to chase it and when attempting to make a basket catch, waved at the ball and the ball bounced off of the heel of his glove. Edman hustled the whole way and ended up standing up at 2nd base with a gift double. Goldschmidt then worked a 3-2 walk, but the threat ended when Carpenter got jammed on an inside fastball and grounded out to 2nd.

Akiyama grounded a 2-2 hanging curve to short to start the top of the 6th. VanMeter flied a high hanging 1-1 curve to left. Galvis tried to bunt a first-pitch hanging cutter for a base hit, but tapped it too close to the mound, where Waino went to his left and fired to 1st for the out. This was the 3rd inning in a row where Wainwright got out of the inning in 10 pitches or less. Brad Miller got fooled, as he struck out looking at a 1-2 sinker that tailed back across the inside corner to lead off the bottom of the 6th. O’Neill grounded a 2-2 center-cut fastball through the hole to left for a base hit. Fowler grounded a 3-0 center-cut fastball opposite the shift, but right at Suarez, who was standing at the shortstop position. Suarez flipped to 2nd for your basic inning-ending 5-6-3 double play.

Now at 81 pitches, Wainwright went back out for the top of the 7th. Barnhart struck out swinging at an inside 3-2 curve. Votto check-swung at a low cutter, and grounded it towards the left side hole. Miller ran, cut the ball off and made an off-balance throw for the out. Castellanos struck out looking at a 2-2 90 mph fastball that just might have caught the outside corner and might have been a bit outside the zone. That was the 15th batter in a row retired by Wainwright.

Righty Lucas Sims came out to pitch in relief for the bottom of the 7th. Molina led off the inning by striking out swinging at a 2-2 slider in the dirt. Carlson struck out on 3 pitches, the last pitch looking at a slider that caught the corner, low-and-in. Sims struck out the side, blowing Wong away with a 95-mph center-cut fastball.

Wainwright was finished for the game after 97 pitches and Alex Reyes came on in relief for the top of the 8th. Winker flied a hanging 2-2 curve to Carlson in short right-center. Reyes was ahead of Suarez 0-2, but lost him to a 3-2 walk because he couldn’t get his breaking pitches over. Moustakas flied a low-and-away 0-2 slider to center. Akiyama lined a center-cut fastball for a base hit to right-center. Fowler cut it off, but Suarez was able to advance to 3rd base. But Reyes ended the threat by striking out VanMeter swinging at an elevated 1-2 97 mph fastball. To start the bottom of the 8th, Edman grounded an inside slider to Galvis, the shortstop, who was playing the deep 2nd base position in the shift on the right side. Goldschmidt grounded a hanging 3-2 slider to short. With a couple of lefties coming up for the Cards, the Reds brought in lefty Amir Garrett to pitch to Carpenter, who struck out swinging at a low-and-away 2-2 slider to end the inning.

Seth Elledge came out to pitch the top of the 9th for the Cards. Galvis worked a 3-2 walk. With Barnhart at the plate, Galvis tried to steal 2nd base on the 1-0 pitch, but Molina gunned him down.

Barnhart then flied a 1-1 slider to left for the 2nd out. Votto ripped a center-cut 3-2 fastball down the first base line past the glove of the diving Goldschmidt and off of the sidewall. Fowler got to the ball quickly off of the carom, and might have had a chance to throw Votto out at 2nd base. But he bobbled the ball trying to get it out of his glove and Votto stood up at 2nd with a double. Castellanos worked a 3-2 walk. Winker also walked on 5 pitches to load the bases, with the last pitch a fastball that looked like it caught the top of the strike zone. Travis Jankowski ran for Winker. Elledge escaped the jam, however, by striking Suarez out swinging at a 1-2 slider low-and-away and out of the zone.

For the bottom of the 9th, Jankowski stayed in the game in the #3 spot to play CF with Akiyama moving from CF to LF. Raisel Iglesias came out try to close things out for the Reds and promptly hit Brad Miller on the top of his back left foot with a first-pitch slider. O’Neill showed a good eye in working a 3-2 walk and laying off some close pitches. Fowler showed bunt and fouled off the first pitch. He took a high fastball for the next pitch, then showed bunt on the 1-1, pulling it back for a 2-1 count. Fowler then swung at a 2-1 change for a 2-2 count. He took a low change to make the count 3-2, then grounded a low fastball through the right side for a base hit. Oquendo held Brad Miller up at 3rd, and the bases were loaded for Molina with nobody out. Molina got behind in the count 0-2, then tapped a low-and-away slider to the left of the mound from the batter’s perspective. After completing his follow-through, Iglesias tried to reach back and backhand the ball, but it bounced off of his glove towards short, and everybody was safe. Molina had a base hit, and Brad Miller scored to cut the Reds’ lead to 4-3. If Iglesias had let it go, it could have easily have been a double play, but it’s such a reflexive play, it must be hard to avoid going for it. With Carlson at the plate, Iglesias shifted his left shoulder to his right, and was called for a balk! O’Neill was awarded home plate to tie the game 4-4, and the other runners were awarded 2nd and 3rd. With still nobody out, Carlson struck out swinging at a 3-2 change that was low-and-away and out of the zone. The Reds made a pitching change and brought in righty Nate Jones to pitch to Wong. They aligned their defense with 5 infielders with 3 of them on the right side, the outfield in and no one in right field at all. Wong walked it off for the Cards by driving a center-cut 96 mph fastball to the gap in right-center that one-hopped the wall. It was scored a single, Fowler scored to give the Cards the 5-4 win.

Wainwright (4 days rest) 7 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO, 1 HR; Reyes (2 days rest, top 8, down 4-2) 1 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO; Elledge (1 day rest, top 9, down 4-2) 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 1 SO.

THE CRITICAL BALK CALL

Thanks to a Twitter account called @cardinalsgifs, I spotted the only video I could find of the balk by Iglesias. I don’t know this person, or how this person does it, but whoever it is is providing an invaluable service and I thank the person. I wish if someone did know how it’s done, they could teach me. My e-mail is in the masthead. I know how to barely turn on my machine, but I am coachable. Anyway, here is the video, and I will attempt to explain why Iglesais was called for the balk.

I’m going to try to avoid writing a treatise here, but it requires some set up. There are two legal pitching positions under Official Rule 5.07: the windup position and the set position. The set position is often called “the stretch” by fans and commentators, but the Official Rules call the stretch something else in this context. If you look at how Iglesias is situated, he is not yet in the set position. He has his back foot, or pivot foot, engaged with the rubber, and he has his front foot facing the catcher awaiting the sign. According to the Rule 5.07(a)(2):

Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when he stands facing the batter with his pivot foot in contact with, and his other foot in front of, the pitcher’s plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of his body and coming to a complete stop. From such Set Position, he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitcher’s plate with his pivot foot. Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as “the stretch.”

The Rule goes on to state:

Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) without interruption and in one continuous motion.

One can interpret Rule 5.07(a)(2) to mean that once a pitcher has his back foot engaged with the rubber, he can do one of two things. He can disengage with the rubber and move about freely, or he can use “the stretch” to get in the Set Position without interruption and in one continuous motion. He can actually do three things, because other rules make clear that he can also throw to a base. So interpreted, Iglesias violated the rule. He was engaged with the rubber. He was not yet in the Set Position because he was not holding the ball in both hands in front of his body. Before using the stretch to come into Set Position, he moved his front shoulder and shifted his weight to his right. It was very slight, but if you watch the video, it’s there. Thus, he did not get to the Set Position without interruption and in one continuous motion—he flinched.

The issue is that Rule 5.07(a)(2) does not specify what the “remedy” is if a pitcher violates that rule, other than specifically stating that it is a balk for the pitcher to fail to come to a complete stop once in the Set Position. For every other violation listed in the Rules that I could see, a balk would be called if there was a runner on base and a ball is called if there are no runners on. But no specific penalty is outlined for what Iglesias did.

What about the balk rule itself. There is a list of 13 things a pitcher can do that Rule 6.02(a) deems are balks. Iglesias could only have been possibly accused of one of those things. Rule 6.02(a)(1) says it is a balk, when, with a runner on base, “the pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery.” Could one argue that moving without getting into the Set Position constituted a motion naturally associated with his pitch? The problem is that he didn’t make the delivery because he never got into the Set Position to start with.

The Comment to Rule 6.02(a) states that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. Could one argue that in flinching like Iglesias did, he tried to deceive at least the runner at 3rd base? The problem is that the Comment is not a balk rule in itself. It’s an aid in interpreting the balk rule, but it is not a balk to do some unspecified thing to deceive a runner.

All I’ve got for you is that Iglesias made a motion. That motion was not one uninterrupted and continuous motion to get to the Set Position. That could be understood as a violation of the Set Position rule. Every other violation of the pitching rules with men on base is deemed to be a balk. It would make no sense to have a rule that outlines legal and illegal actions while on the rubber, without some penalty for such an illegal action. If every other violation is a balk, it is also implied that a violation of the Set Position rule is a balk as well. That’s the best I can come up with. If one agrees that he violated the rule, what else should have happened, other than a balk call? A warning?

The balk rules are hardly a model of clarity. The section of the rules that discusses legal pitching positions is in a completely different section of the rule book than the balk rule. It could be stated more cleanly that any movement that does not immediately use the stretch to get to the Set Position is a balk. The only thing I can offer here is that I have seen this called before, and it was called immediately. That may be a weak argument, but ultimately the rules mean what the people in charge of enforcing and interpreting them mean.

Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed something on the balk.