If there’s one thing just about every Oakland A’s fan knows about Oakland A’s relief pitcher Grant Balfour, it’s the fury of his game face. His entrance music is Metallica’s “One,” the story of a soldier dismembered and rendered speechless, sightless and deaf by a land mine (the song’s sort of a gloss on Dalton Trumbo’s antiwar novel “Johnny Got His Gun“). OK, that’s kind of dark.
Balfour’s arrival in the game is greeted by right-field fans with “Balfour Rage,” sort of a heavy-metal thrashing seizure dance, also performed to “One,” that fan Will MacNeil of Pleasanton invented. The routine looks crazy and is a lot of fun to watch.
Once he’s on the mound, Balfour is all aggressive energy. Even the way he bends at the waist and leans in to get the sign from the catcher signals intensity. He’s also well-known for his loud, profanity-laced soliloquies. Sitting in the stands, I’ve heard him critique his own work (or sometimes the umpire’s) with a startlingly loud expletive.
The foregoing is all by way of trying to explain the moment in the ninth inning of yesterday’s game — Game 3 of the A’s American League Division Series with the Detroit Tigers — when Balfour and the Tigers’ Victor Martinez traded F-bombs with such intensity that all their teammates swarmed onto the field to join in an incipient scuffle. Here’s the family-safe version of the confrontation, from MLB.com (the unexpurgated version is here: Bench Clearing Brawl!!!):
My take on the drama: Martinez seems to be staring Balfour down after fouling off a pitch. Balfour reacts with a verbal challenge to which Martinez responds. Then the benches cleared in that excited but confused and nonviolent baseball way. (Favorite quote, by way of the Tigers’ Torii Hunter in USA Today: “We all came out there and said, ‘Hey, what happened? Why are we out here?'”)
After all that, the A’s won Game 3, 6-3, and now lead the series two games to one. Game 4 starts at 2 p.m. Oakland time this afternoon.