For the Nats, a Balk on the Wild Side
Sunday, July 17, 2005
MILWAUKEE Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
-- The moment was so confusing. For a second, the runner looked to be picked off, a huge out in a tie game in the 10th. But wait. Here was Paul Schrieber, the first base umpire, raising his arm, pointing to Mike Stanton, the left-hander making his first appearance as a Washington National.
The call: A balk. And just as Stanton raced toward Schrieber in a rage of protest, Chris Magruder sauntered home from third base, the winning run in the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-3 victory over the Nationals before 40,690 Friday night at Miller Park.
The call, and the ensuing loss, left the Nationals a wicked combination of fuming and reeling. They have lost four in a row, three by one run, and that karma they created winning 24 one-run games prior to the all-star break seems to have completely evaporated. They can't score runs, even when they begin the game with a homer, as they did Friday with one by Brad Wilkerson, one of 11 hits. And they have lost two straight starts by ace Livan Hernandez -- who carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth but allowed a two-out, game-tying homer to Carlos Lee -- for the first time all year.
All those other things went into this one, to be sure, and because of them all, the Nationals' lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East is just 1 1/2 games, their smallest advantage since June 18. But when the visitors clubhouse opened to reporters following the game, there was Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, standing in front of a video screen. He relayed what the umpires had told him, that Stanton had stepped toward the plate, yet thrown to first.
"Now, I want you to take a look at this," Robinson said.
He pointed to a screen, frozen on Stanton, in mid-pickoff move, striding toward first. The Nationals signed the veteran left-hander just Wednesday, and in the 10th, with runners on first and third, he made his first appearance for Washington. It was his 997th major league game. In 17 years, he had seven previous balk calls.
Moments later, in his office, Robinson ranted.
"How in the world do they think a guy as experienced as Mike Stanton is going to come into that situation and fool around with some kind of balk move?" Robinson bellowed.
Magruder, a pinch hitter, had opened the 10th with a double off Luis Ayala, and moved to third on a sacrifice. Ayala then intentionally walked Rickie Weeks, and Robinson brought in Stanton -- who, before being cut by the New York Yankees last month, had allowed left-handed hitters just a .176 batting average -- to face the left-handed hitting Lyle Overbay.
Yet Stanton is known for his pickoff move, and when he took to the rubber, he had in his mind that he would pick off Weeks, a rookie.
"That is my typical move," Stanton said.