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Balfour, Hanigan get signs mixed up in final frame

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the ball left Grant Balfour's hand, Ryan Hanigan thought it was a slider heading for the dirt. He started to go down to block it, but the pitch never dropped with him.

It was a 92-mph fastball headed straight at his chest.

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With a 2-2 count on Jon Singleton in the ninth inning of Tampa Bay's 5-0 win over the Astros Thursday night, the Rays' catcher called for some junk from his veteran reliever. He got the opposite.

"Just got crossed up. Put down a slider, threw a heater," Hanigan said. "I think he was just a little amped up. So he's trying to not let that happen again. I got the glove up, so it was all good, but mid-pitch I could tell it wasn't gonna break."

In a scary moment, Hanigan turned his head and threw his arms up in front of his body, an instinctive reaction to the ball whizzing toward him. Singleton swung through the pitch for strike three, and luckily for Hanigan, the ball deflected off his raised glove, bouncing away behind him and to his right.

"Especially in a two-strike count, when it comes out with that trajectory, I'm assuming I'm gonna have to block it, because it's low, I can tell," Hanigan said. "If there's a slider, it would have been way out there. So as soon as I went down and saw it was still carrying, I got my hand back up."

Hanigan had no idea what had happened. ("Did he swing? Did he? Oh, I didn't even know he swung," he said after the game.) All he saw was home-plate umpire Seth Buckminster making a "strike" signal.

He didn't try to tag Singleton, who could have attempted to advance to first on the dropped third strike. But Singleton made no effort to run, turning and heading for his dugout, so Buckminster called him out.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon pointed out that Buckminster was lucky to not get hit, too, in addition to Hanigan. He also used the play to elucidate a lesson for batters.

"OK, If you want to illustrate why it's so difficult to hit a fastball when you're looking soft, that's an example," Maddon said. "Because it's even hard to catch. If your mind's thinking soft -- slider, curveball, change, whatever -- and a pitcher throws you a fastball, that's when you get hurt, or an umpire gets hurt.

"Now, the converse would be that Hanigan thought it was going to be a fastball, and then Balfour throws an offspeed pitch … much easier to adjust to. And that's why you go crazy with hitters, because they'll look soft in situations with two strikes, and then the pitcher will throw something hard -- you have no chance. Vice versa, you do. Classic example of that."

Of course, he returned to potential injuries being averted as the more important point.

"When you're thinking soft, and you get hard, it's really a dangerous moment," Maddon said. "It was lucky that Hanigan didn't get hurt, or he missed it and the umpire got hurt."

David Adler is an associate reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Grant Balfour, Ryan Hanigan