Editor's note: The above video is from October 2013.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays were the ones rolling out the red carpet for Grant Balfour on Sunday, but the ceremony also gave the recently retired reliever a chance to reflect on his three seasons in green and gold.
Balfour, who called it a career after last season, is tied for the most postseason appearances by a Rays pitcher. But while a member of the A’s bullpen from 2011-13, he was instrumental in two playoff runs and racked up 64 saves serving time as Oakland’s closer. He also struck a chord with the die-hard fans in the right field bleachers, who rocked out in “Balfour Rage” unison when the fiery reliever entered a game to the Metallica song “One.”
“They’re unbelievable,” Balfour said of A’s fans. “The way they took me in. To them I was a nobody when I got there. I had to establish myself. But really, the way they took me in, they just lifted me up and brought out the best in me for sure.”
Before throwing out Sunday’s first pitch, he popped over to the A’s dugout, talked briefly with manager Bob Melvin and also chatted with right fielder Josh Reddick.
Balfour made his only All-Star team in 2013 with the A’s, but the team’s improbable run to the 2012 American League West title remains near and dear to Balfour’s heart. The A’s erased a five-game deficit over the final nine games of the season and overtook the Texas Rangers for the division crown in game 162. Balfour recorded four saves and a win during that stretch, appeared in all five of the A’s final games and closed out the clinching 12-5 victory over the Rangers.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Balfour recalled. “I just remember throwing that last pitch. I think Bob had someone else up, because we took a little bit more of a lead than what we had for a save situation. I remember saying to him ‘Hey, I want this real bad.’ I wanted out be out there every day. It was definitely amazing.”
“He was the unquestioned leader of that bullpen,” A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said. “Some of that emotion that he pitched with, it got a little contagious.”
Rookie Sean Manaea takes the ball in Monday night’s homestand opener against Texas. After posting an 11.37 ERA over his first three major league starts, Manaea said he’s worked with pitching coach Curt Young on improving his slider, which has been an excellent putaway pitch for him in the minors.
“I’m trying to not get it as big and loopy, kind of make it sharp with a little more velo on it,” he said. “Working both sides of the plate instead of right down the middle.”
The home fans will also get their first look at Manaea with his new short haircut after he shaved off his giant mop of curls in Tampa Bay.