Every once in a while baseball can get weird, and it certainly got weird Tuesday night at Citi Field. Miami Marlins lefty Richard Bleier was called for three -- three! -- balks in a single at-bat against New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso. Jeff McNeil singled earlier in the inning and went from first to second, second to third, and third to home on Bleier's three balks.
First base umpire John Tumpane called all three balks and, as you might've guessed, Bleier was not happy. You can not argue balks, that's an automatic ejection like arguing balls and strikes, but Tumpane gave Bleier plenty of latitude to say his piece before ejecting him. Marlins manager Don Mattingly was ejected after the third balk as well.
Here's the video. Bleier, a seven-year veteran with more than 300 career appearances, had never committed a balk prior to Tuesday.
The balk rule (8.05 in the rulebook) is complex. It lists 13 different actions that constitute a balk, including the pitcher starting his delivery without releasing the pitch, faking a throw to first base, and dropping the ball while on the rubber. In essence, the balk rule is intended to prevent the pitcher from deceiving the runner and potentially picking him off.
Presumably the balks were called because Bleier did not come to a complete stop before delivering the pitch and boy, those were three ticky-tack calls. Some balks are obvious. Those are not. They are borderline at best and that's being generous. You almost have to be looking for a reason to call a balk to ring Bleier up on that motion three -- again, three! -- times in a single inning.
Bleier is the first pitcher with three balks in a game since former Mets righty Mike Pelfrey on May 17, 2009, though Pelfrey balked in three different innings. The last pitcher to balk three times in a single inning was Jim Gott of the Pirates on Aug. 8, 1988. He balked three times in the eighth inning, coincidentally against the Mets.
Ultimately, the balks and McNeil's run did not matter. The Marlins held on to beat the Mets (MIA 6, NYM 4) while the Braves beat the Nationals (ATL 8, WAS 2). The Mets and Braves are now tied atop the NL East at 97-58 with seven games to play. The two teams will open a three-game series in Atlanta on Friday, though MLB could relocate the series to a neutral site due to Hurricane Ian.