Disputed balk sullies Cueto's strong outing

June 11th, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- As usual, Johnny Cueto was effective and entertaining Friday night, though the umpiring crew might debate the right-hander's entertainment value.

Cueto was near-perfect through most of the Dodgers' 3-2 victory over the Giants. He retired 23 of the final 24 batters he faced after yielding a pair of first-inning runs. However, one of those runs scored on a balk, which confused Cueto and vexed Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

Cueto's balk, which sent Chase Utley home from third base, was called after he rocked his upper torso back and forth a little longer than usual. This is one of Cueto's ploys for upsetting a hitter's timing. The umpiring crew believed it violated a basic rule.

"The ruling, when you pitch from the windup, is you have to deliver the ball without interruption or alteration," first-base umpire Bill Welke told a pool reporter. "When he rolled back, he came to a complete stop and then he shook forward and back, forward and back with his shoulders and his foot was moving. That's interrupted and he altered his motion. That is a balk."

Said umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck, "Once you start, it's supposed to be one continuous fluid motion. He broke the rule twice."

Cueto took issue with the ruling, though he sounded ever-so-slightly open-minded. He said through interpreter Erwin Higueros, "I don't think it was a balk, but we have to see and investigate why he called a balk."

Cueto, who has pitched in the Major Leagues since 2008, was asked if he could remember committing this violation previously.

"Never," he said. "They have never called a balk on that.""

Fearing a repeat of this in upcoming games, Bochy expressed genuine concern.

"We have to get some clarity on this," he said. "We've had a couple pitchers who have been questioned, which I don't understand. He's not trying to deceive the runner. That's his style."

Since the balk directly led to one run and abetted the second run, Cueto couldn't revel in his eight-inning, three-hit effort.

"I mean, yeah, it bothers you," he said. "You get upset because we lost a game. But again, it's part of the game."

Allowing runs at home hasn't been part of Cueto's game for a while, but Utley's tally ended Cueto's 29-inning scoreless streak at AT&T Park. It was the second-longest such streak by a Giants pitcher since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958, eclipsed only by Bud Black's 32-inning streak in 1991 at Candlestick Park.

The balk was among the last few incidents that spoiled Cueto's outing. He concluded the first inning by coaxing a pair of groundouts and remained in control thereafter. He struck out seven, induced seven fly balls or soft liners and prompted nine groundouts during his near-flawless stretch.

"I felt the same from the first to the last pitch that I threw," Cueto said.