Rays manager Joe Maddon won’t stifle outspoken, fiery closer Grant Balfour

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Grant Balfour (50) reacts during the ninth inning against the A's.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon didn’t agree with Grant Balfour’s criticism of Rays fans Thursday, but he won’t try to muzzle the closer in the future.

Maddon spoke on the issue Friday before Tampa Bay began a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. On Thursday night, during the Rays’ 5-2 home victory over the Oakland Athletics in 11 innings, Balfour drew boos from some of the 11,257 in attendance when allowing one run and two hits in his second blown save of the season.

"The fans can boo me and all that (stuff), but that’s fine," Balfour told reporters afterward. "It’s not going to help me out. It’s not going to help the team do anything out there when you do that (stuff). The feeling is, the team’s behind you and everybody’s behind you, the crowd, the whole nine yards, things are going to go right. But when you start pulling that (stuff), it’s not a good vibe."

Maddon said he spoke Friday with Balfour about the comments, though the manager emphasized that it’s important for Balfour to speak his mind at all times.

"I’m all for freedom of speech around here," Maddon said. "And I’ve said that before, and sometimes some people say things that maybe I don’t totally agree with. But nevertheless, that’s part of the freedom component that I advocate around here. … I believe that we have a great fan base here."

Balfour’s start with the Rays since signing a two-year, $12 million deal in January has turned rocky at times. An All-Star last year with the Oakland Athletics, he converted his first four save attempts to start the season. But trouble began when he allowed five runs and two hits in a 9-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox on April 25 at U.S. Cellular Field. In nine May appearances, he has allowed five runs, seven hits and nine walks.

Overall, the 11-year veteran has a 5.89 ERA with eight saves and 18 walks over 18 1/3 innings. No matter what his fiery closer says to come, Maddon won’t censor him.

"I did have a talk with him regarding all of that," Maddon said. "Again, I’m telling you exactly what I spoke to him about. I emphasized how much I think it’s important that he says what he thinks he wants to say. … There’s no way that I would try to muzzle any of our guys."

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