The ninth inning of Oakland's Division Series Game 3 win in Detroit featured some extracurricular activity in the form of a verbal confrontation between A's closer Grant Balfour and Tigers DH Victor Martinez, resulting in both benches and bullpens clearing before order was restored.
Oakland took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth at Comerica Park and called upon Balfour, their 35-year-old closer who saved 38 games and earned All-Star honors this year, to close it out. He got ahead 1-2 on Martinez, the leadoff hitter, via a ball, two called strikes and then a foul ball, all on 92-93 mph fastballs. Martinez stared down Balfour after the foul, whereupon Balfour shouted, "What the f--- you looking at, b----?" and received a reply of "F--- you, b-----!". As the f-bombs continued to drop, the two parties drew closer before benches emptied, upon which home plate umpire Gary Darling, who had situated himself between the pair, got out of the way. Deadspin has the video with NSFW video. For a cleaner version from MLB.com, see below:
[mlbvideo id="31104245" width="600" height="360" /]
Nobody was ejected, but both benches were warned. After play resumed, Martinez wound up lining out to rightfield, and he lingered on-field to stare down Balfour again before returning to his dugout. Balfour closed out the game three batters later, thus giving the A's a 2-1 series lead.
Balfour, who was born in Australia and is the son of a former professional rugby player, has developed a reputation for his intensity and his foul mouth on the mound. Last year, an ESPN The Magazine poll of players found that he had "the worst potty mouth" in baseball, ahead of A.J. Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis. In Oakland, his entry into ballgames is accompanied by Metallica's "One," with fans doing a fairly silly-looking arm-waving ritual, the Balfour Rage. The phenonenon has caught on to the point that the A's have incorporated it into his entrance video at O.co Coliseum.
In enemy territory, of course, that video doesn't play. Neither do Balfour's verbal antics, at least for some, though his spewing seems less directed at opponents and more at keeping his own adrenaline flowing. It's not how Mariano Rivera went about his business, but so long as an opponent doesn't take issue, it's not a problem. However, Martinez obviously did take issue, and he's not the first. Back in the 2008 postseason, when Balfour pitched for the Rays, he got into a confrontation with Orlando Cabrera, then of the White Sox. After that bout he said of his yelling, "I'm not talking at the hitter… I'm talking to myself. That's what I do. I'm not going to change." And apparently, he hasn't.
Balfour hasn't had the easiest time against the Tigers, at least since donning the green and gold in 2011. Coming into Monday's game, he had allowed six runs in his past 12 innings against them in the regular season and postseason, most notably taking the loss in Game 2 of last year's Division Series on a walkoff sacrifice fly and blowing a save and taking the loss back on Aug. 29. In that game, he entered with a 6-3 lead but allowed Martinez to hit an RBI single, then served up a three-run walkoff homer to Torii Hunter.
After the game, MLB.com's Jane Lee got Balfour's perspective on the confrontation, which she shared via Twitter:
Thus far, we have yet to hear from Martinez.