Craig Kimbrel's incredible bounce-back season continued in the right direction on Wednesday night against the Pirates. The veteran reliever, after two straight years of struggles to kick off his Cubs stint, notched another save by pitching a scoreless ninth inning and striking out two. The save was his 359th in his career, the most among active pitchers and good for 11th all-time.
But it didn't come without a strange occurrence that isn't seen every day, let alone every decade. There wasn't just an intentional walk, which usually wouldn't happen with a pitcher of Kimbrel's caliber on the bump. There wasn't just a balk, which is very uncommon in itself. Instead, we witnessed what appeared to be an intentional balk (h/t Reddit user TurkeyPhat).
Here's a link to the video of the play on Streamable.
As the tweet from Bleacher Nation acknowledged, as did the announcers in the video, it may have been a move that was done in order to lessen any confusion between Kimbrel and Willson Contreras with a runner on second. There were two outs, negating the effects of a ground ball that could drive in a run. A hit would likely bring that runner in anyway. A walk wouldn't advance the runner any further. Why not move him up a base and avoid any potentially disastrous cross-ups in the pitcher-catcher signals? Just a couple of days prior, Contreras barely avoided what could have been a very bad injury due to just that.
The solution? Boom. Intentional balk. And perhaps it was the right move after all. While Kimbrel may have been able to retire the side with Pirates' hitter Ben Gamel on second base anyway, the move to third didn't seem to hurt him, seeing as he struck out Gregory Polanco in five pitches to end the game.
Believe it or not, it's not the first intentional balk we've seen in recent years. Fellow star closer Kenley Jansen intentionally balked back in 2019 so that Jason Heyward would a) stop distracting him and b) not steal any signs. Jomboy, as usual, came through with a great breakdown to show us the nuts and bolts of the situation.