Men on 2nd and 1st, lefty Quintana in the set position. First baseman Paul Konerko plays in front of the runner, Chris Iannetta, and seems to ignore him. Iannetta has a normal lead. Quintana begins a motion; then Konerko breaks towards the bag, receives the throw on the run, a few feet from the base, and tags Iannetta just before he gets back to the bag. Umpire Ed Hickox calls a balk. ChiSox manager Robin Ventura argues vehemently, and is ejected.
The White Sox announcing crew, whom I heard live on MLB-TV, said the balk was called on the grounds of “throwing to an unoccupied base.” The story on MLB.com says the balk was called because “Konerko was unable to make a play on Iannetta because of his distance from the bag on the throw.” No authority is cited for either claim. The AP story just says that Konerko “was playing way off the bag” and that “Quintana led Konerko to the bag with his throw.” The announcers on the video clip talk in more specific terms, but none of what they say can I confirm in the rule book.
MLB Rule 8.05(d) says it is a balk when: “The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play.” I can find no comment that bears on the present situation.
For all I know, the balk was called for one of the ordinary reasons, e.g., Quintana’s foot crossed behind the rubber, so he had to make a pitch. But if 8.05(d) was the reason for the call, I’m puzzled. How could you say first base was unoccupied? And even if it was, Quintana’s throw clearly was for the purpose of making a play.
Is it a general “attempt to deceive the runner” balk simply because Konerko didn’t move towards the base until Quintana started his motion? If so, what rule obligates Konerko to move? The play began with the runner within Konerko’s reach; if the runner is there, why should the fielder have to go somewhere else to make a play on him? What if the runner had fallen down?
P.S. The balk had no effect on the outcome. Quintana got out of the jam with no runs scoring.