Most managers hesitate before using a reliever on three straight days. Four is indisputable malpractice. Five might as well be a felony.
The A’s finished the season with a six-game winning streak, racing past the Rangers for the American League West crown. Their surge was bookended by laughers—an 8-2 romp over the Mariners last Friday, and yesterday’s 12-5 clincher against Texas—but the four games in the middle were all decided by three or fewer runs. That resulted in a heavy load of high-stress innings for Melvin’s most trusted relievers, Balfour, Sean Doolittle, and Ryan Cook. All three rose to the occasion, but the 34-year-old Aussie went above and beyond the call of duty.
Doolittle worked four days in a row to end the season, tossing a scoreless inning each time. Cook matched Balfour’s five-day run, but only recorded two outs in his first appearance, and coughed up at least one hit in three of the following four. Balfour did this (game log from Baseball Reference):
For a total of:
Balfour worked an inning on five consecutive days, and did not allow a single base runner during that span. Fifteen batters came up, and all 15 sat back down. (That stretch actually extended Balfour's streak of consecutive batters retired to 26, dating back to his outing at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 22.)
The last time a reliever pitched a perfect inning on five straight days? Never—or, at least, not since 1918, which is as far back as the Play Index goes.
The last pitcher to contribute a clean inning on as many as four straight days was Billy Wagner, from April 16-19, 2008. Joe Nathan, who watched the final three games of Balfour’s effort from the opposite bullpen, also accomplished the feat back in his first year as the closer for the Twins, from May 12-15, 2004. Balfour one-upped both of them, thanks to Melvin’s trust and a healthy dose of rage.
Thanks to commenter Manprin for providing the inspiration behind this post.