Richard Bleier recounts weirdest night of his career when he balked three times
Tomase: Richard Bleier recounts his infamous balk game originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Richard Bleier would prefer a different claim to fame.
Maybe something about how he didn't reach the majors until age 29, but has carved out a seven-year career anyway. Maybe the time he struck out the side with the bases loaded against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Maybe that he has never allowed a baserunner in the postseason.
Those facts paint the picture of a useful and reliable reliever, but he's famous for something else entirely. He's the guy who balked a runner all the way around the bases.
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For those who don't remember, Bleier became the first pitcher since 1900 to balk three times in one at-bat when he was flagged with the Miami Marlins last September while facing Pete Alonso of the New York Mets. Marlins manager Don Mattingly was ejected in the middle of the at-bat, and Bleier got the heave between innings.
Bleier knew he'd be asked about his little slice of history after being traded to the Boston Red Sox for right-hander Matt Barnes, and he punctuated the retelling with no shortage of sighs, though it's clear self-deprecation comes naturally.
"It's like, great," he deadpanned on a recent morning at JetBlue Park. "This is what I'm known for. I'm known for (expletive) balking in a run. I have a career 3.00 ERA in six and a half years and I'm known for (expletive) balks. It is what it is. It's fine."
So here's how it started. About a month earlier, MLB had circulated a memo advising pitchers that it would be cracking down on grip aids – the sticky stuff, so to speak – and also enforcing a full set position on potential balks. Bleier read it with a shrug.
"You know, whatever," he said. "We get stuff like that all the time, where it's like, 'Hey, this is happening,' and you just kind of in-one-ear-out-the-other it and carry on with your life."
"Looking back," he added, "that was a bad idea."
By late September, the Marlins trailed the Mets by more than 30 games. New York was locked in a serious battle with the Braves for first place, though, so the game mattered to the standings. It also mattered to Bleier, who had overcome a slow start to finally drop his ERA below 4.00 for good in August.
He wanted to finish strong, and he entered in the eighth to protect a 6-3 lead, recording two quick outs before Jeff McNeil beat out an infield single. And then the fun started.
Bleier's first pitch sailed outside, but first base umpire John Tumpane had already waved it off to signal a balk. Bleier was incredulous.
"I guess he read the memo and took it to heart," he said. "The umpire felt like I wasn't ever really truly coming set. I still disagree. For me, it seemed like the wrong time to pull out the rulebook. We're in a three-run game. A balk is an attempt to deceive a runner and this is clearly not a running situation."
Bleier gathered himself and thought, "OK, no big deal." He focused on Alonso, one of the most dangerous sluggers in baseball.
"I don't even know how to describe it," he said. "It was just, it was ridiculous. It's Pete Alonso, the guy had already hit a three-run homer that game. I'm just trying to make sure he doesn't hit another one.
"My move is always like, I come set, I pick up the plate. You see in the video, I pop my glove when I come set. I'm facing the (expletive) home run leader. I've got other things on my mind, which I guess was not acceptable."
Bleier considered just balking McNeil over to third intentionally so he wouldn't be able to steal signs, but Tumpane beat him to the punch.
"He called the balk anyways, and I was like, whatever. This is a joke," Bleier said. "The difference between him being on first and third with two outs isn't much. So yeah he'll score on a single or whatever, but really I'm just trying to keep the ball in the park."
But his ordeal wasn't over.
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"All right, he's at third, we're done with it," Bleier said. "I've still got to make my pitches. And then he balks me again, and I was like, 'You've got to be absolutely kidding me.' I'm either going to get this guy out or not get him out, but we're going to talk."
Bleier induced a groundout to end the inning and then Tumpane hit him with the second ejection of his career. The first had come a year earlier vs. the Nationals when he argued that a pitch that hit Alcides Escobar should've been ruled a swing, and then flipped off umpire Cory Blaser from the dugout for good measure.
"I was completely wrong," Bleier said. "It was a clear no-swing and I kind of wanted it to be a swing more than I knew it was a swing. I deserved that one."
He asked Mattingly if he had overreacted and Mattingly said no. He asked former Marlins GM Michael Hill, now working in the league office, and they agreed to disagree, with Hill noting that he had committed the equivalent of rolling through a stop sign. They remain the only three balks of his career.
Now he's in Boston, and Bleier must accept that this strange curiosity will follow him.
"It happened and it was ridiculous and we won In the game and now I get balk comments on Instagram posts and stuff," he said. "But other than that, it was just kind of this weird dumb thing."