Collin Balester's strange day
Collin Balester entered today's game with no outs in the eighth inning, a runner on first base. He could be called plenty of things as a pitcher, but "dull" is not one of them. The first thing he did -- before "the weirdest thing that's ever happened" to him -- was blaze a high-90s fastball in front of Hanley Ramirez's face and to the backstop.
That wild pitch sent the runner, Logan Morrison, to second base and set up one of the more unusual sights from a Nationals game this season. Before the at-bat began, Balester and shortstop Ian Desmond had devised a plan. If Morrison reached second base, they would try to pick him off before the next pitch. So, with Morrison on second, Balester glanced at Desmond.
"Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see [Danny] Espinosa going," Balester said.
For some reason, Espinosa, and not Desmond, breaking to the bag confused Balester. He went to step off the mound for the pickoff anyway, and it was like his body would no longer do what he wanted it to. He just crumpled to the ground, like Bambi walking on ice.
"I don't even know what I did," Balester said. "I just lifted my leg and just flipped on the ground. I don't know. That was the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me.
"I was just looking at Desi, waiting for him to go, and then all of a sudden Espi went. I was just all flustered. I started moving limbs and falling all over the place."
Balester was not called for a balk, and he still isn't sure why.
"I don't think I stepped off," Balester said. "I just looked at the replay, and it looked like moving parts. I didn't know what I was doing. I kind of just fell down and laid on the rubber for a little bit."
Balester felt embarrassed, but this, actually, is a success story. He came back to strike out Ramirez swinging at a 95-mph fastball. Before the inning ended, he threw another wild pitch. But he got Chad Tracy to pop up into foul territory, and then he struck out Mike Stanton, too. Balester pitched only inning, but he packed a lot of action into those three outs.
"I ended up kind of gathering everything and getting back," Balester said. "You hear the whole stadium laughing at you, all you can do is laugh at yourself. I just came back and to gather up again and get back to pitching."
The one moment was funny, but it shouldn't distract from Balester's eye-opening stretch recently. In his last five appearances, Balester has not allowed a run. During the span, he has allowed three and two walks while striking out 14 in seven innings. He can still be wild, but Balester is showing signs he may really take to relieving full-time.
After the game, as he dressed to leave, Sean Burnett looked over Balester him and asked him, "Do we have early work tomorrow?"
"Yeah," Balester said. "I'm going to teach you guys how to pick off at second base. The real way."
September 11, 2010; 6:15 PM ET
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