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.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.