We've all heard about an intentional walk. How about an intentional balk?
With Michael Cuddyer on second base, two out and the Indians leading Minnesota 4-2 in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Bob Wickman reportedly did just that.
The Plain Dealer reported that Wickman thought back to his blown save April 21 against the Angels. After Garrett Anderson hit a bloop single to score Darin Erstad from second in the ninth and tie the game (a game the Indians eventually lost in extra innings), Wickman became suspicious that Erstad might have tipped off Anderson as to the pitch.
With third base open, a two-run lead, two out and right-handed hitting Shannon Stewart batting, Wickman apparently thought the time was right for the first balk in his career.
He set himself, moved his left foot, then came off the rubber, faking a move toward third. Two umpires immediately signaled the balk.
For those of you who aren't as familiar with baseball terminology, a balk is committed when runners are on base, and the pitcher, working out of the set position, breaks his stance and makes a move toward home plate without delivering the ball. The idea is that a pitcher can unfairly fake the runner into breaking for the next base, then toss him out by throwing to the base.
When a balk is committed, the runners on base are awarded the next base. Runners on third score.
In Wickman's case, however, the balk might have worked to his advantage. Putting Cuddyer on third took him out of the line of sight for catcher Victor Martinez's signals to Wickman. Runners on second are a favored method of stealing signs in baseball.
Initially, the balk looked like the start of Wickman's undoing. He walked Stewart to bring Matthew LeCroy to the plate as the potential winning run. During the at-bat, Martinez visited the mound multiple times as it appeared he and Wickman couldn't get on the same page, pitchwise.
The pace of the game ground to a halt, and amid a cascade of boos from impatient Twins fans, pitching coach Carl Willis popped out of the dugout for a conference with Wickman and most of the infield.
Maybe that was part of the script, too.
After much consternation and hand-wringing, Wickman finally got the count on LeCroy to 2-2. Then, in a display of veteran guile surpassed only by the intentional balk, Wickman got the best of LeCroy. Wickman threw an 80-mile per hour back-door slider that missed its mark by at least two feet, but tied up Lecroy high and tight. The pitch was a ball, but LeCroy gave a half-hearted jab swing and struck out to end the game.
It was save No. 6 for Wickman, putting him on present pace for about 35.
Wicky will never be confused with Eric Gagne or Mariano Rivera in the pantheon of closers. He doesn't throw 98 mph. He doesn't have explosive stuff, or even a true strikeout pitch. He lets runners on base. He lets runs score. But there is something to be said for having a 35-year-old veteran closer who has been through the wars many times over, who knows just about every trick in the book and is savoring every outing after having his career threatened by elbow problems, blown save or converted save or otherwise.
Wickman might never throw free and easy. He might not look in command on the mound. But he is.