Balk in fifth inning proves fateful for Cubs in 4-0 loss
It's been a balky start to the season for the Cubs, to be sure.
So it was fitting that a balk call against starting pitcher Yu Darvish derailed his start Friday in another lackluster team loss, this one 4-0 to the Atlanta Braves and cold and windy Wrigley Field.
The stop-and-start Cubs have fallen to 6-7 for the season while the upstart Braves are 8-5.
The fateful inning for Darvish and the Cubs was the fifth, which Darvish did not finish.
Darvish opened the inning by striking out Ender Inciarte. Ozzie Albies, the Braves' phenom of a second baseman, doubled to right field.
With Freddie Freeman up, home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called Darvish for a balk on a 2-2 pitch Although Darvish struck out Freeman, he seemed unnerved by the balk call, and the Braves went on to score 4 runs, 3 coming on a long home run down the right-field line by Preston Tucker.
Darvish exited after the ninth Braves batter of the inning and admitted the balk call hurt.
"The umpire told me it's because I paused during the motion," Darvish said through a translator. "But over the course of my career, I've done that many times, and it was never called balk. Even Freeman told me it wasn't a balk.
"Frustrated, again, because it has never occurred, and it was in a critical situation when that happened. So that's very frustrating."
Managers are not allowed to argue balks calls, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon went out and tried to get an explanation from Dreckman.
Either way, Maddon wasn't buying balk even as he conceded the call bothered Darvish.
"Obviously everything went south after the balk, which was not a balk," Maddon said. "OK? It was not a balk but it was called a balk. It seemed to create a little bit of awkwardness because he was doing really well up to that point, really well. I'm thinking 6 innings right here. Bottom of the fifth, let him hit, of course, 1-0 game. Get us through 6, shortens the bullpen, etc., etc.
"Then it came apart really quickly. He got into that groove we were talking about (pregame). Everything was working really well. And I can't disagree with you, but it seemed like after the balk, things changed a bit."
Darvish threw 39 of his 105 pitches in the fifth, and he wound up allowing 9 hits and 4 runs in 4⅔ innings in falling to 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA.
Cubs hitters did little with Braves starter Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who gave up 3 hits in 6 innings.
Ian Happ, a late lineup insert in place of the ill Albert Almora Jr., had 2 of the Cubs' 4 hits. The Cubs are batting .235 as a team. Happ said he is not worried about the offense.
"No," he said. "You look around this room, look at our lineup every day, that's not going to be an issue. I think we're doing a good job of putting a plan together. We've hit some balls hard right at people. I had a few of those games. There's going to come a point where everybody starts clicking at the same time and you'll see a lot of runs go up."
Both teams had to hit and pitch in the cold, blustery weather.
Darvish has pitched in the past for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, so the blast of 42-degree weather with a north wind at 17 mph creating a windchill of 34 was new to him. That part of the day didn't seem to bother him.
"I was surprised how cold it was," he said. "I told myself I'll perform better. If the weather is colder, I'll perform better. When I was on the mound pitching, I didn't feel any cold or the effect of the weather."
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