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Lowell Cohn: Tigers' Victor Martinez lost battle with A's Grant Balfour


"I was a little confused at that point," Balfour said. "Every time I make a pitch, I walk down the mound. It's what I do. He had his eyes locked on me like he wanted to come out. So I said, 'Hey, man, you want to stare me down like that. Come on out. I don't really care.' So he came out."

Note: We know Balfour didn't quite say it like that. He definitely used the word @#%&, but he was cleaning up his language for the press.

"He knows what he was doing," Balfour said. "I'm cool with it. He's a great competitor, a great hitter. I feel a fire. Obviously, he does, too. It makes it more fun."

Balfour was puzzled because he had not thrown anywhere near Martinez' head.

"Here's this guy's staring at me. I mean I didn't go in there (at Martinez) the whole at bat. He was staring me down. If I started staring at you (the media) like this, it's kind of odd. You don't do it to people unless you want to come out there and get a piece of someone."

The consensus in the postgame A's clubhouse was a colossal failure of communication between Martinez and Balfour.

"He's always screaming," catcher Stephen Vogt said of Balfour. "He's screaming at himself before he even throws a pitch. I just saw Balfour being Balfour. Maybe Martinez didn't like that. I know about Balfour. He never yells at a hitter. He's always yelling at himself. He gets himself fired up."

Josh Reddick, who hit a fourth-inning home run – one of three by the A's – addressed the "Affair Balfour."

"We love Balfour. That's' the way he's got to pitch."

How would Reddick describe Balfour's use of language?

"Not really age appropriate, I guess. As far away as I am (in right field) on a quiet night in Oakland, I can hear it clear as day. So, I can imagine what (Martinez) could have heard. He (Balfour) doesn't yell at anybody directly. He pumps himself up for the next pitch."

The fight never developed into a full-on punching, wrestling and gouging festival. Martinez got back in the batter's box and lined out to right field. On his way back to the dugout, he did more Death Staring. That didn't diminish the fact he made the first out. Balfour closed out the Tigers after that.

After the game, Martinez told MLive (FYI, I have no idea what MLive is), "I mean, (expletive) him. I don't take that (expletive). Not even the greatest closer in the game will tell you stuff like that. I'm not a rookie. To intimidate me with the little (expletive) like that? I don't take that (expletive)."

Let's leave the fight and move onto its implications. Martinez – not Balfour – committed the cardinal baseball sin. His job was to get a hit or a walk. His job was to start a rally to bring the Tigers back into a game they desperately needed to win. He didn't do that. He forgot about the game. He forgot about the at-bat. He decided to take offense. He went for the pitcher. This is a classic case of a player losing his focus. That's a horrible baseball cliche, that thing about losing your focus. In Martinez's case it's absolutely true.

It revealed he was not ready for that at bat – his most important of the game. It showed, clearly, he is nervous about losing the series, nervous about the Tiger's enormous problems after just three games.

Let's go further with this. If Martinez is blowing his gasket, you can assume other Tigers are, too. The Tigers are beginning to panic. They eliminated the A's last year, but the A's may – should – eliminate the Tigers this week.

Martinez and his teammates cannot handle that thought – although it's not even a reality yet. The result? Martinez was unprepared for business in the ninth inning when business was all that mattered.

The A's are a better ballclub than the Tigers. The Tigers have all the big names, but the A's are better. You think of the Tigers as fierce, dominating, powerful. Forget it. These aren't Tigers. These are house cats.

Miguel Cabrera – the current version – can't get around on pitches, can't generate power from his damaged lower body. Plus, he flubbed a grounder in the third inning and gave the A's their first run. He is killing Detroit.

What about Prince Fielder, another famous Tiger? He is not a prince. He is a commoner.

Detroit's leadoff hitter Austin Jackson has struck out seven times in three games. He's not the lead-off hit. He's the lead-off out.

The A's took what the Tigers had to give, got past Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. They survived and now they are thriving. They should win this thing. They really should. The Tigers are cracking up.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.