Bibee rebounds nicely, but balks prove costly

12:40 AM UTC

The theme of Guardians starter Tanner Bibee‘s week was control. He was visibly upset with his performance against the first-place Twins last time out and wanted to make sure another five-walk outing was not in his future.

All the work he put in since then paid off, as he pitched a gem in front of his friends and family at Angel Stadium.

Ironically, the one thing that was seemingly out of his control stood between him and a possible victory.

Bibee was excellent, allowing just two baserunners on a double in the first and a single in the third with no walks and eight strikeouts. But the runner who reached in the third was granted second and then third base on back-to-back balk calls that allowed what became the deciding run to score on a groundout, handing the Guardians a 2-1 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon.

“I was told that I was stopping twice, and that’s all I got to say about it,” Bibee said.

As Bibee was coming set on the mound with a runner on first, play was paused as he was called for a balk. The Guardians were seeing the same Bibee delivery that they had seen all season long. So, when he was called for it the first time, he stood on the mound with his arms raised in confusion.

Then, he was called again.

Bibee couldn’t hold back his frustration. He began yelling at second-base umpire Pat Hoberg — who made the calls — as Cleveland second baseman Andr?s Gim?nez hustled to the mound to settle his pitcher down. Guardians manager Terry Francona emerged from the dugout to try to explain to the umpiring crew that they had seen Bibee pitch before and this shouldn’t be something that resulted in a balk.

“He said he was stopping twice,” Francona said. “I’m like, well, not only has this crew had him already, he had had four pitches and two were balks and two weren’t. … I said, ‘Seventy-seven other umpires can’t be wrong.'”

Bibee got the final outs of the inning and was still begging for some explanation to clear up what went wrong. He chatted with umpires between innings and was left with nothing but exasperation. He walked into the dugout and threw his glove with all his might.

The 24-year-old righty was coming off his most disappointing outing of the season. He was still effective, navigating around five walks and exiting with a 3-2 lead after five innings in a critical matchup against the Twins. But after the bullpen blew it in the late frames, Bibee desperately wanted to right the ship this time out.

He had started off strong. The question that remained was whether he’d be able to stay locked in after he was rattled by those calls.

“I think we were a little nervous that he wasn’t, because he was getting a little [frustrated] — and I don’t blame him,” Francona said.

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But Bibee channeled every emotion he had into finding another gear. After that single in the third inning that led to an unexpected run, the righty retired the next 14 batters he faced until he was pulled after throwing 90 pitches in seven frames.

“I think that’s just one of those things — trying to turn the page, trying to have a short memory,” Bibee said. “I think being able to do that, obviously, let me go deep. I think it gave me a little anger to it and I kind of put a little more on the ball.”

Bibee couldn’t help the fact that his offense was limited to just one run. He also couldn’t help the fact that what he had thought he’d done all season resulted in costly balks. But what he could control was how he’d respond to his performance on Tuesday. He could also control how he’d respond to the two calls that he did not agree with.

He may be a rookie, but he continues to prove that he can handle these types of hurdles like a veteran.

“I think this whole last week I was really trying to figure out how to stay in more control the entire way, try to stay inside my body, not going too quick down the mound, stuff like that,” Bibee said. “I think it’s indicative through the no walks. I think I was definitely better, in control of myself and kind of stayed in control the entire time.”