Throughout the American League Championship Series, Rays reliever Grant Balfour wasn't his typical self.
The fiery, hard-throwing right-hander had put together one of the best seasons for a reliever in the majors this year, leading the Rays in ERA (1.54), opponent average (.143) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.65).
But in the ALCS, Balfour had struggled with his command, giving up nearly as many homers (two) as he had all year previously (three), with one strikeout in four appearances (21/3 innings) and a 19.29 ERA going into Sunday night.
So what was the difference? Manager Joe Maddon said Balfour had been physically fine, his velocity the same.
"I just (wanted) to see him more angry," Maddon said. "I like it when he's a little bit more animated out there."
Balfour said he hadn't been as "locked in" in the ALCS, where he had missed his spots more than he usually does. Maddon had pointed to Balfour's intensity - as seen in his heated exchange with the White Sox's Orlando Cabrera in the division series - as being part of his success.
"Velocity has been pretty good. I've been seeing him 95 (mph) up in Boston, 96, upwards in that area," Maddon said. "I just want him to go out there and just be Grant, which is kind of angry. So I'm just going to talk to him about that a bit. So overall it's not that entirely different. I just think he's been off a bit."
Balfour said Maddon approached him before Game 7 and insisted he'd been approaching his outings the same way. He said he was still confident and wanted the ball, but he had just been a little off at times.
Balfour hadn't given up a run in 13 of 14 appearances before Game 2 of the ALCS, when his struggles began. In the Rays' 11-inning win, Balfour faced three batters: Jason Bay homered, then Jed Lowrie and Jason Varitek walked. Then, in the Rays' Game 5 loss, Balfour gave up four hits and four runs, including a three-run homer to David Ortiz (the first homer a lefty had hit off Balfour all season).
Maddon said Balfour had good stuff, but "Papi just got him."
After Balfour walked two of the three batters he faced Saturday in Game 6, even he admitted he wasn't as sharp.
"I'm confident in myself and know I can do it," the 30-year-old Aussie said. "I know it's there."
Joe Smith can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org