With the MLB playing over 2,000 total games in a season, baseball has a lot of chances for a game to end in an exciting fashion. One of the more uncommon, but still exciting, ways to end a baseball game is by the pitcher making one costly mistake with a balk. What is a balk off?
A “balk-off”, also known as a “walk-off balk”, refers to a baseball team winning a game because of a balk on the pitcher. The penalty for a balk is a free base and if that free base is the winning run, the home team will win the game on a walk-off balk.
Although a walk-off balk is rare in baseball, it is an event that happens on occasion. For the rest of this article, we’ll discuss what is a walk-off balk and then look at some real-world examples of games ending due to a walk-off balk.
This article explains one small part about what constitutes a balk in baseball. Learn more about what is a balk by reading The Balk Rule in Baseball: A Complete Overview.
- What is a Balk-Off?
- Why is it Called a Balk Off?
- Real World Examples of Walk-Off Balks in Baseball
- Kansas City Royals Walk-Off Balk Against New York Mets: 8/1/23
- Cincinnati Reds Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Tampa Bay Rays: 7/8/22
- Seattle Mariners Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Los Angeles Dodgers: 8/18/18
- Los Angeles Dodgers Win On a Walk Off Balk Against Texas Rangers: 6/18/15
- Cleveland Indians Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Detroit Tigers: 5/21/14
- Chicago White Sox Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Kansas City Royals: 7/4/11
- Atlanta Braves Win on a Walk Off Balk Against New York Mets: 6/16/11
- Milwaukee Brewers Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Washington Nationals: 7/15/05
- Additional Walk-Off Balks in Baseball
- How Often Does a Balk-Off Happen?
What is a Balk-Off?
A balk-off, also known as a walk-off balk, is when the game ends because the pitcher balks.
Whenever any type of walk-off play occurs, it means the home team has won the game. So whenever a game ends on a walk-off balk, the home team has won the game, with the final play resulting in a balk.
As it turns out, there is only one scenario in baseball where a balk-off play can occur. A balk-off can only occur when all of the following events are true:
- The game is tied
- The game is in the final inning (whether it’s the last inning in regulation or extra innings)
- The home team is batting
- There is a runner on third base
- The pitcher balks
When the pitcher balks with all of these events being true, the runner on third base gets to advance to home without worrying about getting out. Once that runner scores, the game is over because the home team is leading and the visiting team does not have another turn on offense.
Why is it Called a Balk Off?
Now that we know what a balk-off is in baseball, the next question you might be wondering is where the term “balk-off” or “walk-off balk” comes from.
In short, the term “balk-off” and “walk-off balk” gets their name from a combination of a walk-off play and a balk. Because these two events happen in the same play, players combine these two events into one word to describe what happened.
To help us understand the term even better, let’s describe in more detail what each event means.
What is a Balk?
In baseball, a balk refers to a penalty on the pitcher. Whenever the pitcher makes an illegal move, the umpire calls a balk on the pitcher.
Some common ways a pitcher will balk include:
- Delivering a pitch from the stretch position without coming to a stop
- Not stepping directly towards a base before throwing to that base
- Making a pitching motion (or flinching) without delivering the pitch
As it turns out, there are a lot more ways to balk. Learn more about the 13 ways a pitcher can balk in baseball.
Once a balk is called on the pitcher, the penalty is that all base runners get to advance one base. This means that if there is a base runner on third base and the pitcher balks, the runner on third gets a free trip to home where they will score a run.
What is a Walk-Off?
The second piece to understanding where the term “balk-off” or “walk-off balk” comes from is knowing what a walk-off play is in baseball.
In baseball, a walk-off play occurs when the home team scores the winning run in the bottom of the last inning. The game ends after the winning run scores because the visiting team does not have another turn to bat.
In baseball, the home team always bats last and if the home team is winning at any point in the last inning, the game is over. So even though both teams get 27 outs (3 outs multiplied by 9 innings), the home team might not need to use all 27 of their outs if they score the winning run in the last inning.
Real World Examples of Walk-Off Balks in Baseball
Balks do not happen very often in baseball, which means that a walk-off balk is even rarer. And because of how rare this play is, people often wonder if there has been a walk-off balk in baseball.
Walk-off balks are a very rare way to end a game, but they have happened in Major League Baseball. Because of how quickly the balk call ends the game, players on the offense and defense are always surprised the game ended because of a balk.
Let’s look at a few examples of when a balk-off occurred in Major League Baseball.
Kansas City Royals Walk-Off Balk Against New York Mets: 8/1/23
Pitcher: Josh Walker
Batter: Michael Massey
Runner on Third: MJ Melendez
Cincinnati Reds Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Tampa Bay Rays: 7/8/22
Pitcher: Matt Wisler
Batter: Tyler Naquin
Runner on third: Mark Kolozsvary
Seattle Mariners Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Los Angeles Dodgers: 8/18/18
Pitcher: Dylan Floro
Batter: Kyle Seager
Runner on third: Cameron Maybin
Los Angeles Dodgers Win On a Walk Off Balk Against Texas Rangers: 6/18/15
Pitcher: Keone Kela
Batter: Jimmy Rollins
Runner on third: Enrique Hernandez
Cleveland Indians Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Detroit Tigers: 5/21/14
Pitcher: Al Albuquerque
Batter: Ryan Rayburn
Runner on third: Asdrúbal Cabrera
Chicago White Sox Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Kansas City Royals: 7/4/11
Pitcher: Aaron Crow
Batter: Adam Dunn
Runner on third: A.J. Pierzynski
Atlanta Braves Win on a Walk Off Balk Against New York Mets: 6/16/11
Pitcher: D.J. Carrasco
Batter: Jason Heyward
Runner on third: Diory Hernández
Milwaukee Brewers Win on a Walk Off Balk Against Washington Nationals: 7/15/05
Pitcher: Mike Stanton
Batter: Lyle Overbay
Runner on third: Chris Magruder
Additional Walk-Off Balks in Baseball
The above examples were only from MLB, but walk-off balks have happened in other leagues too. Here are a few additional videos to check out if you’re interested in seeing more walk-off balks.
- Eugene Emeralds winning the 2018 Northwest League title on a walk-off balk
- Hudson Valley Renegades winning a Minor League Baseball game on a walk-off balk
- San Jose Giants winning a Minor League Baseball game on a walk-off balk
- Texas Tech winning a college baseball game on a walk-off balk
How Often Does a Balk-Off Happen?
In any given Major League Baseball season, there are generally less than 300 total balks that occur. Out of 4,800+ games that are played in a season, seeing a regular balk is quite uncommon.
For a game to end with a balk is even more uncommon. According to FanGraphs, there were 13 game-ending balks prior to June 17, 2011. There have only been a handful of walk-off balks that have occurred since that date.
As we can see from the dates listed in the article above, there have been at least 7 more walk-off balks that have occurred since FanGraph updated their page.
This means there have been at least 20 walk-off balks total in the history of Major League Baseball.