Balfour took over for Rays starter James Shields with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. The game hung in the balance despite what had seemed a safe 6-3 Rays lead.
Balfour's first pitch sailed outside for ball one prompting Cabrera to kick the dirt and call out to Balfour.
"Cabrera kicked dirt after the first pitch and I was like, 'Did that just happen?'" Balfour said. "And he's yelling at me to throw it over the plate."
"I was like, all right, and went right at him. And I started saying some words and left it at that. It just fired me up. ... It's not like I went in on him or anything. I was just trying to make a good pitch down and away."
Among Balfour's mound antics -- other than a 96-mph fastball -- is his penchant for using expletives for motivation.
"Every time I come into the game, I'm fired up and I'm talking to myself," Balfour explained. "That's my game."
Cabrera was not familiar with Balfour's show.
"They said he always gets pumped up like that," Cabrera said. "He said [an expletive] to the hitter every time he swings at his pitch. I didn't know that, so I just got mad a little bit. I was just pumped up."
If the bases being loaded weren't enough, both pitcher and hitter were feeling extra adrenalin due to their exchange. Balfour eventually won the battle by striking out Cabrera swinging. Afterward Balfour stormed off the mound with a message for Cabrera.
"I told him to go sit down," Balfour said. "... I think I might have mixed one or two words in with it."
When Balfour went to the dugout, the scene briefly appeared as though it might get out of hand, which explained home-plate umpire Joe West's visit to the Rays' dugout. But after all was said and done, there didn't appear to be any lingering bad feelings between the two players.
"Apparently, he always does that, nothing big," Cabrera said. "We're at war, and I just lost the battle, that's all. Apparently, he likes to be challenged. So I was just trying to take his mind out of the game, something like that, and just challenge him a little bit and he won, he won the battle."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen thought "both of them got a little bit excited."
"I don't blame [Balfour]," Guillen said. "To me, he misunderstood Cabrera's action. I mean, when you have 40,000 people around you, first playoff games, you expect a lot of things. But I think he just overreacted a little bit."
Rays manager Joe Maddon has likened Balfour to former Major League closer Al Hrabosky, who would put himself into a rage before each pitch.
"We're talking about the intensity with which they pitch," Maddon said. "It's authentic. It's authentic. Grant is just that wound up when he pitches."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.