BOSTON -- Good morning from the Edes cave, where despite a weekend absence from Texas and missing the Rangers’ three-game sweep of the Sox, my time here at home appears to have paid dividends. After experimenting with a few different substances -- Vaseline, motor oil, chicken gravy -- I’ve discovered that by applying Vermont’s Original Bag Balm to the bottom of my computer mouse, where it’s out of sight but easily accessible to my typing fingers, I’ve added 20 words per minute to my speed.
For those of you unfamiliar with the product, Vermont’s Original Bag Balm was first used on chapped cow udders, but has been proven useful in a variety of ways, and I’ve just added another.
I’ve always been envious of the great ones who seem to be leaving the press box when I’m halfway through a column -- Whicker, Shaughnessy, Vaccaro -- but I believe I’ve found the equalizer, and makes me suspicious of what those guys have been using all these years. My old boss, the legendary Fred Turner, always hinted that reaching for something extra could elevate my prose, but I thought he was referring to a thesaurus. But that was before my Eureka! moment.
I’m eager to test it under game conditions, and while I admit that the Bag Balm leads to the occasional glitch, like this – qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq -- overall, I’m confident that with an improved tempo, my adjectives will be sharper, my verbs will break in the proper tense, and my paragraphs will flow seamlessly, leaving the reader mere putty in my hands.
Do I worry that my peers will accuse me of enjoying an unfair advantage? You think I care? It’s all about the bylines, baby, and the awards that are sure to follow. I’m bringing my heat, and I challenge anybody to connect my greased-up mouse to my mastery of the King’s English. Until they do, it’s all just jealousy.
As coincidence would have it, I’ll be debuting my newfound skill Monday night at Fenway Park, where Clay Buchholz will be pitching for the Red Sox against the Minnesota Twins. Buchholz is taking the mound for the first time since he was accused by a couple of fellow members of the pitching fraternity -- the esteemed Jack Morris, the obscure Dirk Hayhurst, now both broadcasters for the Toronto Blue Jays -- of throwing a spitball. As evidence, they offered video of Buchholz’s pitching hand rubbing his left forearm, which they say was covered with something sticky (Hayhurst said on Friday he was told it was sunscreen, an odd thing to be wearing in a dome), and subsequently applying it to the baseball.
Morris was so certain of his discovery that he walked over to the visitors’ side of the field in Toronto last week and told Sox manager John Farrell and catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross of his suspicions. When Saltalamacchia told Morris he’d seen Buchholz wet down his uniform with water and that he was just using rosin to get a better grip, the pitcher known for his toughness didn’t come close to backing down.
In fact, he told Salty, “This isn’t my first [expletive] rodeo.’’
Well, now. Buchholz has been the American League’s most dominant pitcher so far this season: He’s won all six of his starts, he has pitched at least seven innings each time he has taken the mound, and has yet to allow more than two runs in a game. His earned run average is 1.01, the lowest among all big-league starters.
Last season, through his first six starts, Buchholz had an ERA of 9.09. Only Francisco Liriano of the Twins had a higher ERA, 9.97, among big-league pitchers who had made at least three starts.
Last season, through his first six starts, Buchholz had given up 10 home runs in 32 2/3 innings. This season, he has allowed one home run in 44 2/3 innings.
The amateur sleuths in Toronto decided they saw something fishy. "It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it's all in his hair," Morris said, saying that the way Buchholz’s fastball dived only reinforced his conviction that Buchholz was cheating. "I can't prove anything. I can't prove anything.’’
Morris huffed that if this had happened back in the day, everyone in the dugout would have seen what was going on, and the opposing manager would have come charging out to the plate umpire, demanding that Buchholz be checked -- and tossed out of the game if he was caught doctoring the ball.
Nothing of the sort happened. Buchholz has made 111 starts over the course of seven seasons in the big leagues, and no one in uniform has ever accused him of loading up the baseball. Unlike some of us (wink, wink), Buchholz said he is doing nothing different from when he was getting lit up last year, or any other time in his career, good or bad.
The Sox have attributed Buchholz’s sensational start to a few tweaks in his mechanics, and the fact that he no longer is worried about the stress fracture in his back that cut short his 2011 season and was still in his head last year.
Farrell was mightily annoyed by the accusation. “As soon as someone pitches well or does well, they're cheating," he fumed.
Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, in his role as NESN analyst, came off the top rope on Morris.
“I think Jack Morris should zip it,” Eckersley said on the air. “I feel sorry for Buchholz to even have to deal with this. I’m styling here, and you’re taking away from me, a guy that can’t even make it to the Hall of Fame yet, and he’s chirping over there -- zip it.”
Morris, however, has hardly been one to grandstand for attention, and if he was merely interested in submarining the kid, why would he have bothered to share his suspicions privately with the Sox? He may be dead wrong, but he appeared to be speaking out of conviction.
No one, meanwhile, has done a better job of protecting Buchholz than Ryan Dempster, who demonstrated what veteran leadership is all about by pitching the next night and announcing afterward that he came up to the clubhouse in the third inning to use what Buchholz was using. Then, the next day in Texas, Dempster lined the top shelf of his locker with a bottle of baby oil, a tube of Vaseline and a container of cocoa butter.
Still, there’s only so much you can do to shield Buchholz from what is certain to be increased scrutiny Monday night: Will his left forearm be shiny or wiped clean? Will his hair be dripping wet? Will Twins manager Ron Gardenhire engage in any gamesmanship and ask that Buchholz be checked? Will any of this prove a distraction for Buchholz? Will it work to the pitcher’s advantage if the Twins believe he is throwing a spitter?
And most important to the Sox, will he continue to be as dominating as he has been?
Me, I’m just packing my laptop, my mouse and my Bag Balm. Come 7:05 and first tweet, it all changes. Buch may be clean, but me, I’m breaking bad.