Snubbed by All-Star voters, Grant Balfour settles for making history instead
Earlier tonight, we touched on the dominance of the cauldron-shaped Bartolo Colon, who earned his 12th win by holding the Pirates to one run in seven innings. But there's another pitcher on Oakland's roster who deserves a little love: closer Grant Balfour, who made team history with a save versus Pittsburgh.
With the save, the 23rd of Balfour's season, the Australian right-hander broke Oakland's franchise record for consecutive saves, held (obviously) by Dennis Eckersley. That 41st straight save tied Balfour for sixth all-time in consecutive saves, along with Heath Bell (2010-11) and Trevor Hoffman (1997-98), both with the Padres, and Rod Beck (1993-95) with the Giants. Though the No. 1 spot is probably a pipe dream — Eric Gagne's 84 straight saves for the Dodgers between 2002 and 2004 — Balfour needs only six more saves to tie Brad Lidge (2007-09) for fifth, and eight more to match John Axford (2011-12) for fourth.
MLB records for arbitrary statistics aside, Balfour has quietly had an excellent season for the first-place A's. His 1.77 ERA is the best mark of his career, and the 23 saves — sixth in MLB — are just one off his career high, set in 2012 during his first year as Oakland's full-time closer.
At 35, he's finally settled in after years of bouncing between clubs as a hard-throwing reliever. Signed by the Twins as an amateur free agent way back in 1997, Balfour began his major-league career in Minnesota, only to see his Twins career cut short by an injury in 2005. He missed that entire season and the next one before popping up with the Brewers and then the Rays in 2007. With Tampa, he resurrected his career as a serviceable set-up man for Joe Maddon and company, emerging as a key part of the Rays' pennant-winning squad in 2008, striking out 82 in 58 1/3 innings.
Balfour left Tampa for Oakland after the 2010 season, initially to be a set-up man for then-closer Brian Fuentes, only to take the role for himself. He lost the job briefly in 2012 to Ryan Cook but won it back, and has been more or less lights out since then.
That said, for all his 2013 success, Balfour was inexplicably ignored by All-Star voters, as well as players and American League manager Jim Leyland. Oakland's lone All-Star spot went to Colon, as an injury replacement for Clay Buchholz; though Leyland could have gone with Balfour as an injury replacement for White Sox reliever Jesse Crain, he instead chose Twins closer Glen Perkins. Perhaps even more insultingly, Balfour was left off the AL's Final Vote ballot, despite that being comprised entirely of relievers. Along with teammate Josh Donaldson, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Royals closer Greg Holland, he has a good claim to being the AL's biggest snub. Regardless of All-Star selection and saves records, Balfour can be comfortable in knowing he's the best Australian player in MLB history. In fact, he leads all Australian pitchers in strikeouts and saves. That'll give him something to lord over Graeme Lloyd and Damian Moss next time all the Australian pitchers hang out together, which I imagine they do all the time.