Tempers flare as V-Mart, Balfour exchange words
Warnings issued as benches clear; A's closer confused by Tigers DH's anger
DETROIT -- Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Comerica Park on Monday ended with an A's 6-3 win and a flourish.
Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez fouled off a 1-2 pitch from A's closer Grant Balfour and stared down the Australian-born right-handed pitcher.
Words were exchanged and Martinez headed toward the mound. It was on, as the benches and bullpens emptied. Cooler heads prevailed. No punches were thrown and no one was ejected, though both teams were warned. Martinez flied out to right on the next pitch.
Balfour, a kinetic pitcher who always jabbers and curses at himself on the mound, said he was as confused as anybody about the incident.
"I'm not sure if I know what happened," Balfour said. "I was a little confused out there. Hey, listen. I'm making my pitches and every time I throw a pitch, I come down off the mound. It's kind of what I do. Anyway, he gave me the death stare, man. He had his eyes locked on me like he wanted to come out.
"So, I said, 'Hey, man, you want to stare me down like that and you've got a problem, then come on out. I don't really care.'"
And that was the PG version. Martinez obliged, stomping right past A's catcher Derek Norris with home-plate umpire Gary Darling trailing.
The A's have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series that would end if Oakland wins Tuesday's 5 p.m. ET Game 4, airing on TBS, so tempers are evidently starting to become a little frayed. The Tigers have scored six runs in three games, plating three of them in the fourth inning Monday. Otherwise, A's pitchers have shut out the AL Central champs 25 out the 27 innings.
"I just fouled a pitch off," Martinez said. "I was looking at him. He told me, 'What am I looking at?' And I'm like, [forget] that. Not even the greatest closer, that's Mariano [Rivera], tells you stuff like that. I'm not a rookie that he's going to come in and say little [junk] like that.
"If he has some bad blood, that's his business. I don't care. I don't really give a [darn]. Whoever's on the mound, I'm just going to go out there and have a good at-bat and see what happens. I'm not trying to get in his head. I just want him to throw the ball over the plate. That's it."
The incident was over almost as quickly as it ignited and Balfour walked Alex Avila before retiring the side.
"Warnings were given as preventative, so nothing further escalated," Darling said in a statement. "Emotions were running high. The situation at the time only warranted warnings."
The incident was strange, considering that none of Balfour's first three pitches to Martinez were even close to the switch-hitter, who was batting left-handed.
"Yeah, that's why it was kind of confusing," Balfour said. "Why is this guy starting at me, you know? If I ran it in there I could understand, but I didn't go in there the whole at bat."
Torii Hunter, Martinez's teammate, said it all seemed like a misunderstanding.
"I know Balfour," said Hunter, a former teammate of Balfour's with the Twins. "Balfour sometimes just talks to himself, tries to fire himself up. And some hitters, after a good swing like that, you hear him say something and it might be a curse word or whatever. I just saw my teammate running out there so I had to go out and try to break it up, because we don't want anybody thrown out in the postseason."
Balfour said there were no prior problems between him and Martinez. Balfour has pitched for 10 years with four teams, three of them in the AL. Martinez has played 11 seasons for the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers. In his career, Martinez is 4-for-11 against Balfour with no homers and only two RBIs. Martinez lined out to right against Balfour on Saturday night to end the top of the ninth in Oakland's 1-0 Game 2 win.
"It's all good," Balfour said. "I'm cool with it, bro. Hey, he's a great competitor. He's a great hitter. I like a little fire and obviously he does, too. It makes for a bit of fun, right?"
Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.