Is Marlins’ reliever Richard Bleier the first Jewish pitcher to be called for a balk on Rosh Hashanah? I don’t know. What is a stone-cold fact is coming into Tuesday’s game against the MetsBleier had made 572 professional baseball appearances over the course of 15 years — never in his seven big league seasons. He had committed nine balks before facing Pete Alonso at Citi Field with two outs in the eighth inning. His total career after facing Alonso: 12.
Yup, he gained a third of his prior career total in one at-bat, with all three being called by the game’s first-base umpire John Tumpane. Bleier is a lefty, so the closest jump to his pitching hand from him would be Tumpane. What move did the 35-year-old use to blatantly deceive the hitter? He was deemed to have not fully stopped his pitching motion with the ball in his glove.
Bleier was confused and a tad upset the first time it happened. He’d just faced three batters with the exact same motion and no balk had been called. When Tumpane called a balk loud enough where the field mics picked it up two pitches later, Bleier was visibly upset. When it happened for a third time, Don Mattingly willingly got ejected — as well as Bleier, who was disturbed as he couldn’t comprehend what he was doing wrong while Jeff McNeil scored without the ball reaching the outfield. After an infield single, there were three easy 90-foot trots to score him.
The inning ended with an Alonso groundout and the Marlins ended up winning the game by the exact scoreline that lit up the scoreboard after McNeil crossed the plate, 6-4. Bleier became the seventh pitcher to be called for a balk three times in the same inning and the first to do it since Jim Gott in 1988, by the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the only pitcher to do it three times in the same at-bat since 1900.
Umpiring quartets and teams bump into each other all over MLB’s circuit, so it’s hard to believe Tumpane and friends hadn’t seen Bleier throw before. And if he made the same motion facing the first three batters of the eighth inning, was Tumpane not paying attention? These were the first three MLB walks for Bleier, who’ll also represent Team Israel at next year’s World Baseball Classic.
Punishing Bleier for a unique delivery is atrocious and comical. Look at how former Mariner and Marlin Carter Capps pitches the ball, with a hop-step similar to a javelin thrower than pitcher. His foot dele leaves the rubber with the ball in his hand. He’s literally closer to the mound and has a better chance at a strikeout. Isn’t that an unfair advantage? And Capps committed a balk zero times in his 129 career MLB appearances. If Bleier hadn’t been called for a balk in his MLB career before Tuesday, he’s not the one that has to adjust. Tumpane needs to keep himself in check.