What a a way to win a baseball game — a walk-off balk, or a balk-off.
Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Matt Wisler, now pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays, flinched on the mound with the baseball in his hand, a balk that enabled pinch-runner Mark Kolozsvary to walk home from third base with the winning run.
That gave the Reds a 2-1 victory in 10 innings, a game that was beautifully pitched by the starting pitchers, Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo and Tampa Bay’s Shane McLanahan.
After playing 77 games without a sniff of a walk-off win, the Reds have three in their last six games — one against Atlanta, one against the New York Mets and Friday’s against Tampa Bay, all in Great American Ball Park.
The decisive inning began with pinch-runner Kolozsvary on second base as the ghost runner. Nick Senzel bunted him to third, the first sacrifice bunt of Senzel’s career.
Wisler walked Albert Almora Jr. on a full count and with pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin standing in the batter’s box with an 0-and-2 count Wisler balked.
The Rays put runners on third and first with no outs in the top of the 10th and shortstop Kyle Farmer stepped in front of the rally.
First, he threw Francisco Mejia out at home on a ground ball, then he snagged Wander Franco’s line drive and stepped on second for an inning-ending double play.
As expected, hits and runs were as rare as $2 bill with Castillo and McClanahan manning the mound as starters.
McClanahan, on the short list for American League Cy Young honors, entered the game on a string of 10 straight games of pitching six or seven innings and giving up two or less runs with seven or more strikeouts.
He made it 11 in a row, an American League record, but he only made it through six innings — one run, three hits, eight strikeouts.
Castillo, auditioning for a possible trade, matched McClanahan pitch-for-pitch. He made it through seven innings — one run, four hits, eight strikeouts.
The Rays put two on in the first inning but didn’t score. They did score first, a run in the third on a double by Yandy Diaz and a two-out single by Harold Ramirez.
The Reds tied it in the third. After Jonathan India hit into a double play, Brandon Drury nearly reached Mainstrasse Village in Covington, Ky. with his team-leading 18th home run, blasted on a 3-and-0 pitch. The ball crashed against the upper deck facade, 423 feet from home plate.
Castillo put together a string of nine straight outs and McClanahan had retired 10 straight before he was removed.
The Reds celebrated the departure of McClanahan by putting two runners on bae in the seventh but didn’t dent home plate.
With relief pitcher Colin Poche on the mound, Matt Reynolds walked and Senzel singled. But Almora forced Reynolds at third and Michael Papierski lined to center, leaving it at 1-1.
Now it was Tampa Bay’s turn to take aim at the Reds bullpen. With Castillo watching from the dugout, Alexis Diaz, activated off the injury list prior to the game, took the mound for the eighth.
Diaz struck out the first, two then issued a full-count walk to Franco and then struck out Ji-man Choi on a full count. Choi’s third-inning single was the last Tampa Bay hit to that point.
The Rays sent Ryan Thompson to the mound for the eighth to face the top of the Reds’ batting order.
India fouled off four two-strike pitches before flying to center. After watching what Drury did to McClanahan’s 3-and-0 pitch, he fell behind 3-and-0. But he bounced back and struck out Drury. And Tommy Pham struck out.
Hunter Strickland, pitching the ninth, issued a two-out full-count walk to Kevin Kiermaier and Kiermaier stole second. Strickland then walked Isaac Paredes on a full count.
Pinch-hitter Francisco Mejia, who hit four home runs in GABP as a member of the San Diego Padres, broke his bat fouling off strike two. With his new bat, he flied to right field.
Tampa Bay’s Jason Adam took over for the ninth, he of a 1.39 earned run average. He hit Kyle Farmer with a pitch. A bunt? Nope. Donovan Solano rolled into a 5-4-3 double play. Mike Moustakas pinch-hit for Matt Reynolds and struck out on three pitches.
And that sent the game spiraling into extra innings, time for the infamous ghost runner … or the Rob Manfred Man.
And a balk ended it.