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What is a Walk-Off Balk in Baseball?

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.

A baseball player in a white uniform winding up to deliver a pitch from the mound

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?

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.

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.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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