Boston Red Sox fans who tuned in to this season’s opening match between the defending World Champions and their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, possibly thought last night’s game should have featured this dependent clause of a disclaimer: “For wicked sliders lasting five innings or more…..”.
That choice of words may sound like a Pfizer commercial promoting the popular E.D. wonder drug, Viagra. However, there may be a new topical derivative of the pharmaceutical, called Slide-Agra, undergoing secret clinical trials in the Bronx Bombers Clubhouse.
Last night’s starting pitcher for the Yankees, hard-throwing Michael Pineda, made only his second start since July of 2011, and racked up another solid six innings on the mound. With the exception of just two walks, however, his command was impeccable, and his slider was untouchable through the fourth inning.
Pineda’s performance had to be encouraging to team manager, Joe Girardi and General Manager, Brian Cashman, who acquired the highly touted pitcher from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for high-baller (and recently DFA’d), Hector Noesi, as well as the perpetually overweight Jesus Montero.
After last night’s game at the stadium though skeptics across the country have been looking at game tape to see if there’s any substance behind Pineda’s performance.
And by “substance”, I’m not talking in the abstract.
During the 3rd inning of last night’s game television cameras captured what appeared to be a brown, shiny substance, similar to pine tar, on Pineda’s throwing hand. Speculation immediately spread across the Internet that perhaps Pineda was gumming up the ball.
Suspicion further mounted during the fifth inning when the pitcher returned to the mound after obviously washing his hands. In post-game comments Pineda explained the brown substance was nothing more than dirt he had rubbed on his hand to absorb excess sweat.
Diehard Yankee fans had to roll their eyes and giggle at that explanation. Pineda quelling sweat with dirt is less believable than the Seattle Mariners Player Directory that still lists Jesus Montero at 235 pounds.
Dirt mixed with moisture is commonly known as mud. It doesn’t reflect a sticky shine. Thus, if Pineda is going to insult the intelligence of baseball fans, he should do so with a story that is remotely believable.
The larger question is: if Michael Pineda has completely rehab’d his shoulder, why did he allegedly doctor his pitches? Does he know something about his own abilities that Yankee coaches haven’t figured out? Is he inadvertently signaling his own deficiencies? Or is it possible he was just seeking a little extra something to keep a tighter grip on his balls on a cool night in the Bronx?
After two years on the DL it is understandable that Pineda might lack confidence and suffer occasional performance anxiety. In that regard, a bit of pine tar applied at the right time could probably give his game the type of lift he is looking for.
But why be so blatant?
Since the substance is dark brown and sticky, it’s hard to conceal. Also, it doesn’t disappear as fast as other water-soluble solutions, like KY, which was the apparent preference of famed spitballer, Gaylord Perry.
Moreover, the side effects of pine tar on a pitch as it travels through space are not always consistent, and vary depending on the actual dose administered. When applied to breaking balls, however, pitchers can be confident the substance will add a few inches of movement to their game. Sliders, in particular, are known to bend more due to the velocity of the pitch against the added friction.
From a pitcher’s perspective, pine tar on a ball is only as good as the odds of getting away with using it, which are small. Whether Pineda used the substance or not is moot at this point because the Red Sox dugout never alerted umpires that anything was amiss. Therefore, he’s off the hook with respect to last night.
Whether Boston’s lack of apparent interest or action had anything to do with accusations last year by Jack Morris that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz uses pine tar is unknown., however.
Certainly his next opponent will cast a keen eye on Michael Pineda’s every pitch. If he’s hooked on pine tar it could be a short season… and a short career.
This article originally appeared at Last Word on Sports on April 11, 2014, and can be viewed here