Pelfrey's 'yips' tie Mets balk record
Right-hander's three slips equal Rowe's 46-year-old mark
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Major League record for balks in a game is five
Mike Pelfrey had no designs on reaching that number.
Yet when Pelfrey balked for the third time in Sunday's game, he tied a 46-year-old Mets record, last set by Don Rowe in 1963. He became the first Major League pitcher to balk three times in a game since Al Leiter did it in 1994. And he found himself unable to provide a complete explanation.
"It was weird," Pelfrey said. "I knew I wanted to make the pitch home and I was fighting myself. The way I look at it, I shot myself in the foot twice and cost me a couple runs."
The first balk, in the first inning, was of the most ordinary variety. Catching his cleat on the pitching rubber, Pelfrey had a choice: either hang onto the ball or send a batting-practice pitch flying toward the plate, possibly down the middle. Pelfrey chose the former and balked Pablo Sandoval to second base.
The next batter, Bengie Molina, hit a run-scoring single.
Yet when Pelfrey allowed a leadoff single to Aaron Rowand in the fifth inning, he began experiencing what he called "the yips." Fighting an instinct to whirl and throw to first base, Pelfrey shifted his feet in such a manner that he balked Rowand to second.
Later in the at-bat, Matt Cain hit a run-scoring single.
"It's what's called start and stop," crew chief Dana DeMuth said. "When he comes to the stretch, he's got to follow through to the stretch and has to have some kind of motion before he can step off. What he did tonight twice, he came up, stopped and then stepped off. You can't do that. You have to have some kind of motion still going on coming through the stretch and then you can step off."
The third balk occurred in the sixth inning, after Pelfrey again allowed a single to the leadoff hitter. In the same fashion as he did in the fifth, Pelfrey this time balked Molina over to second base -- only this time, he escaped from the jam unscathed.
It was not the first time Pelfrey had experienced "the yips" -- he felt the same mental block at one point last year and several times in college. But he had never balked in a game before this year.
"It's a weird, weird experience," Pelfrey said, "because not only am I out there fighting myself, but I'm fighting the Giants at the same time."
"I was surprised, too," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "I had not witnessed that before, and it really caught me off-guard. You could see him fighting and battling and trying to get comfortable. It just wasn't happening for him today."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.