NEW YORK – So what was it, exactly, that Michael Pineda got caught using on his right hand Thursday night? It sure looked like pine tar, or at least a similar-type of goop, but the Boston Red Sox never uttered a word of protest, which snuffed out the controversy before it gained momentum.
Still, there was plenty of postgame fidgeting from the New York Yankees. Despite an impressive 4-1 win over Boston, they were clearly uncomfortable discussing the foreign substance found on the heel of Pineda’s hand. There’s no denying something was amiss: NESN, the Red Sox cable network, zeroed in on the area around Pineda’s palm, which was glistening with a brownish mass that quickly went viral on social media.
Pineda, who pitched brilliantly over six innings, insisted he’d done nothing more than smear “dirt” over his sweat. Joe Girardi’s alibi was even thinner, insisting three times, to three separate questions, that, “I never saw (the affected area),” and was unaware this was being discussed on TV.
It was left to the Red Sox to speak honestly about the matter. Of course it was pine tar, they said, and as David Ortiz put it, “Everyone (does it). It’s no big deal.”
The Red Sox are no strangers to this subject, as two of their own pitchers – Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester – were both accused of using the sticky stuff in 2013, including during the World Series. Baseball’s rules do prohibit the use of any such substance, but there’s an unspoken waiver issued when the weather is cold, as it was Thursday night in the Bronx.
Pitchers generally use pine tar to effect a better grip; opposing teams typically look the other way, as do umpires. Scuffing the ball, or loading it up with, say, Vaseline, is a different matter, because that’s what makes a baseball dance and dart and dive unpredictably, giving a pitcher an advantage.
Not that Pineda needed any such gimmick in the opening act of this four-game series against the world champs. Pineda’s performance bordered on genius. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and, before he finally tired in the seventh, dominated the Sox with a mid-90s fastball and a change-up that looked like a Bugs Bunny illusion at 82 mph.
Girardi emphatically said his right-hander, “is a different guy” than the one who broke down in 2012, needed surgery and spent all of 2013 slogging through one minor league rehab assignment after another. If this is the real Pineda, and if he’s able to stay healthy all summer, the Yankees have every right to recalibrate their hopes for a 90-win season.
That’s why the Bombers’ skittishness was so pointless. Girardi didn’t need to keep stonewalling reporters, pretending he never noticed the brown patch on Pineda’s hand. Of course he did.
Instead, the manager stuck to what appeared to be a rehearsed response. “There’s not much for me to speak about,” he said. All Girardi had to do was point out that the Red Sox didn’t have a problem with Pineda’s use of pine tar, so why should anyone else.
Girardi and Pineda could’ve had a little fun with the tempest that never was. It’s only pine tar. It’s only April. Live a little.