Bizarre balk costs A’s in 3-2 loss to Royals

The A’s hot start Saturday was stymied by a slow and steady Royals offense that kept the heat on just a little longer than Oakland could.

Scott Kazmir (L, 4-5, 2.79 ERA) did what he normally does, going seven innings and not giving much, the three runs he did allow were enough.

This story has been updated with post-game quotes and additional material from the A’s clubhouse.

The A’s lost 3-2, with the deciding Kansas City run coming on the heels of bizarre a balk play in the third inning.

With Omar Infante on second base, Kazmir seemed to motion for catcher Josh Phegley to visit the mound, stepping forward while not in the set position, ball and glove both down.

Home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth immediately called balk, much to the dismay of Kazmir, manager Bob Melvin, and every other player wearing green.

Kazmir, Melvin, Phegley and other infielders all had words with Culbreth, with no official explanation given to the media at the time the game’s final out was recorded.

Kazmir said:

“He was saying that I started my delivery. I was just telling him that I stepped off first, and went to home plate to talk to Phegley. But he saw me just going forward and not stepping off.”

Melvin, who was seemingly still fuming mad about the call, said:

“I didn’t see a balk. I mean, to me, he stepped off. That’s a big run.”

Infante was awarded a free 90 feet, moving to third base on the play.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a pop fly just moments later, high and deep to left field, and Infante scored the decisive run on a tag up.

Kazmir said after the game that he hadn’t even set to throw, which was clearly distinguished by any pitches he threw before or after, and added:

“I tried to explain it to him, but he saw what he saw.”

Phegley thinks the play was clear:

“(Culbreth) said he started his motion, stopped, and stepped off. And that just wasn’t true. I saw him step off the back, and immediately start walking to the plate. Because (Kazmir) was calling me out. … And I think that quick motion, he thought he was starting his delivery. Whatever (Culbreth) thought he saw, just didn’t happen.”

The catcher also noted a way that baseball could avoid such egregious and game-changing officiating mistakes:

“I think that’s something that they can maybe at least all get together out there, the other umpires. Because they have all four angles covered. And if he says ‘I saw him start his motion before he stepped off,’ all he has to do if ask another guy what he saw. And if he says ‘I saw him clear his foot,’ then it’s an easy call to make.”

Phegley, along with Kazmir, defended the umpires, saying that it’s a tough call to make, especially being a judgement call from only one angle.

Phegley won’t fault Culbreth because of how tough the angle is, and likened it to a check swing, where the home plate umpire will check with the first or third base umpire to decide whether a batter swung or not.

It was a tough break for the A’s, who have two consecutive losses against Kansas City after winning five straight on the road. Oakland has been playing much improved ball of late, which has been stymied by the little things.

The A’s, though, were not without their own fireworks in the loss.

A’s outfielder Sam Fuld made a heads-up baserunning play after hitting a second inning double.

The advantageous Fuld noticed a shift being placed on catcher Stephen Vogt, and with the third baseman closer to second, stole third base without a pitch being thrown.

Royals pitcher Chris Young (W, 7-3, 2.71 ERA) threw the pickoff attempt into the foul grass errantly, and Fuld got up and scored easily on the misfire.

Fuld said:

“I tried to time it so that Young was on the rubber, and not facing me, obviously, I wanted to get it while he was taking his sign. … I saw Moustakas off just enough and felt like I had a good shot.”

Fuld wasn’t sure if Moustakas had caught the pickoff attempt from Young, and laid on the bag for a few moments until third base coach Mike Gallegos got in his ear, telling him to run.

The errant throw was well into foul territory, though, and the speedy Fuld had no issue making it to home plate.

The A’s scored their second run on an error, too, second baseman Eric Sogard rounded three bags without an out, a lap that ended with an error on a relay to second by Infante.

But the A’s never scored without a defensive miscue, and that was the death knell.

Oakland has one more opportunity to beat Kansas City, who has been a pain in the team’s backside over the last two seasons, with Jesse Chavez toeing the mound for Oakland against the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie.


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