As it was previously in 2010 and 2011, pitching is once again all the rage now in Major League Baseball. Despite seven no-hitters tossed in 2012 by starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Kevin Millwood (with the help of five relievers), Johan Santana, Jered Weaver and Phil Humber, it’s the men in the pen that garner most of the over-the-top baseball fanaticism. Leading the late-inning charge of borderline insanity is Aussie closer Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Often seen dumping water over his head before leaving the bullpen and talking to himself in-between pitches, Balfour’s on-field antics are undoubtedly the most anticipated sight to see in the 2012 MLB playoffs.
The raging thunder from ‘Down Under’ was called upon by A’s manager Bob Melvin in five tightly-contested games on five consecutive days to lead Oakland to the American League West Division title. Balfour’s stellar late season hitless pitching insured the A’s sweep of the Mariners and Rangers. The six-foot-two, 34-year-old Sydney native threw an inning per day and retired all 15 batters faced–which extended his streak of putting consecutive batters away to 26. He is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a member of the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays and is in a perfect position to get another crack at taking home a World Series ring in 2012 with the A’s.
Since August 11th, Grant Balfour has converted all 17 of his save opportunities while posting a 2.18 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 26/6 K/BB ratio over 20 2/3 innings. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, the hard-throwing right-handed hurler struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s 2008 Opening Day roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with an impressive 6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA. Grant Balfour made his MLB debut back in 2001 for the Minnesota Twins. Having now passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers, he is the quintessential Aussie baseball patriarch. A’s pitchers Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley have already made baseball history by becoming the first pair of Australian Major League players to compete in the MLB post-season on the same team. The pitching duo of Balfour and Blackley have another opportunity to imprint their names in Aussie baseball history by becoming only the second and third Australians to win a World Series ring. A fairytale ending for Oakland’s Australian connection would be most appropriate as they both have played a major role in the A’s miraculous run to the American League West title and the post-season. Like a fine wine getting better with age, Sydney’s Grant Balfour and Melbourne’s Travis Blackley are at the pinnacle of their careers and are in line to catapult the underdog to a world championship.