Lincecum, Giants Lose On a Phantom Balk

Dave NemetzSenior Analyst IApril 29, 2008

Let the players on the field decide the outcome of the game.

Heard that before? It's been a saying for over 100 years for a very good reason—because time and time again the umpires, referees, or officials make boneheaded calls that unquestionably alter the outcome of a game.

Such was the case tonight in San Francisco when the Giants took on the Rockies at AT&T Park. The Orange and Black had their ace (the real ace) Tim Lincecum on the mound, and even though he didn't have his best stuff, he still had the team in the game, tied 2-2 in the seventh inning.

That's when home plate umpire Gary Darling pulled one of the most bass ackwards moves I've seen out of a Major League ump (and I've seen a lot of boners out of that bunch).

With a runner on third and one out, Lincecum looks at the sign from catcher Bengie Molina and begins his windup. Out of the blue, Darling raises his hands and calls time. Molina follows suit, jumping up out of his crouch and raising his hands to signal time to Lincecum.

The babyfaced pitcher sees that time has been called and halts his motion. All of a sudden, Darling lowers his hands, signals towards third, and shouts:

"That's a balk!"

A balk? How can a balk happen after a time out has been called? With a runner on third, in a tie game, in the seventh inning! After a time out which, by the way, was called by the umpire!

(Ok, enough outrage.)

Rockies go up by one run, Lincecum retires the next two batters on a shallow flyout to center (which likely wouldn't have score the run) and a sharp groundout to third.

The Giants challenge in the 8th and 9th but fail to score, and the game ends 3-2 Rockies.

Or, more accurately, Giants-2, Rockies-2, Gary Darling-1 Horrible Call.

Now I'm not saying that Gary Darling lost the game for the Giants. Bad baserunning, and a couple of rough breaks kept San Francisco from what should have been at least 4 or 5 runs.

But Darling certainly accentuated those "coulda, shoulda" moments and irrevocably altered the game with his absurd call.

The worst things is that Darling will likely get nothing but a slap on the wrist for his timeout-balk switcheroo. Umpires who make mistakes like this shouldn't be major league umpires. This is as bad as Phil Luckett's "you said heads, not tails" moment during the coin toss in that Steelers-Lions Thanksgiving game back in 1998. 

That moment was dissected and in part led to a shakeup of NFL officiating policies. Darling's blunder will probably be forgotten, mostly because in a 162 game season things don't get as magnified as in the NFL's sixteen game, every contest is crucial season.

But screw-ups like Darling's still make a difference in pennant races, even when they're made in April. Sure, the Giants probably won't contend this year (unless a miracle happens), but the Rockies might.

What if the Rockies end up winning the pennant by one game due to the gift-wrapped victory on Lincecum's balk during a timeout?

They'll have Gary Darling to thank.