Grant Balfour blows first save since April 29, 2012

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Before surrendering a game-tying, two-run home run to Matt Dominguez in the ninth inning of tonight’s loss, Athletics closer Grant Balfour had converted 44 consecutive saves dating back to early 2012, the sixth-longest such streak in baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Balfour’s last blown save occurred on April 29 against the Orioles, when he gave up a game-tying two-run double to Matt Wieters and then a walk-off three-run home run to Wilson Betemit.

After the Dominguez homer, Balfour recorded an out, then allowed a double to Jonathan Villar and a walk to Jose Altuve. While pitching to Jason Castro, Balfour threw a pitch in the dirt that bounced off of catcher Derek Norris and went to his left. Villar, on second, threatened to advance but ultimately stayed put. Altuve, at first, thought Villar was advancing, so he was about halfway between first and second when Norris fired to first for what should have been an easy second out of the inning. The throw to first baseman Brandon Moss went wide, glancing off of his outstretched glove and dribbling away. Villar raced around the third base bag and easily scored the winning run for the walk-off win. Surprisingly, it is not Balfour’s first loss of the season. He lost on June 23 in Seattle against the Mariners.

Balfour has been a godsend to the Athletics since they signed him to a two-year, $8.1 million contract with a $4.5 million option for 2013. Entering tonight, Balfour had logged 176.1 innings with the A’s, posting a 2.30 ERA with 52 saves. He made the All-Star team for the first time in his career this year. Prior to tonight’s game, he was averaging better than a strikeout per inning with a 1.59 ERA in 39.2 innings. Tonight’s outing bumps his ERA up to 2.03.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.