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First Pitch: Yanks, Pineda failed each other

4/24/2014

BOSTON -- Michael Pineda's decision to take the mound with a smear of pine tar on his neck cost his team four relief pitchers Wednesday. It may well cost the Yankees a game Thursday night if CC Sabathia gets knocked out early and they need to go to the bullpen. And over the next couple of weeks, it could cost them a couple of more games, depending on how long Pineda is suspended for, and who the club can scrape up to start those games in his place.

Yes, Pineda failed his team with the incredibly stupid decision to be so blatant about his pine tar use, especially with so many eyes and cameras trained on him after what happened at Yankee Stadium the last time he pitched against the Red Sox.

But the Yankees did Pineda no favors Wednesday night, either.

It was grossly negligent for no one in their dugout or their clubhouse to notice that he was headed out to the mound with a virtual sign on his back reading "CHEATER." After all, he got the pine tar from somewhere. And I doubt it was in the privacy of the men's room.

It was just as bad for no one to notice the smear on the video screens that someone is always monitoring in the Yankees clubhouse, watching at-bats and preparing for the possibility of video challenges. If it was so obvious to everyone watching the game at home, how could it not be to the professional game-watchers in the Yankees clubhouse? It might have been too late, anyway, but maybe Joe Girardi could have sent pitching coach Larry Rothschild out to the mound to do something, anything, to get the sticky stuff off Pineda's neck before the umpires got to him.

But the worst was yet to come. After the game, no one from the Yankees PR department offered to get Pineda, whose English is not very good, a Spanish-speaking teammate or employee to translate questions Pineda may not have fully understood. Later, a Yankees spokesman said Pineda insisted on conducting the interview in English. It made for a very uncomfortable and even humiliating interview session.

It was almost as if the Yankees were doing everything possible to distance themselves from Pineda and what he did on the mound. It was him, not us, they were saying. As they say in the underworld, nobody saw nothing.

And that is complete hogwash.

After the April 10 incident at Yankee Stadium, the team got a lecture from Joe Torre, Bud Selig's Dean of Discipline. The Yankees won't say what was said, but you can bet it was along the lines of, "If he's going to do it again, I better not see it."

Obviously, no one in the Yankees organization made that point to Pineda, who might just as well have taken the mound with a pine tar rag in his back pocket for all the care he took in hiding it.

First of all, let's understand what's going on here. Even the Red Sox, the supposed victims of this baseball sin, were only offended because Pineda was virtually rubbing the stuff in their faces.

Manager John Farrell: “I fully respect that on a cold night, you’re trying to get a grip, but when it’s that obvious something has got to be said."

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski: "I'm all for it. Put it on your pants, in your glove, on your belt, wherever, you just can't do it that way.”

Clearly, we're not talking about altering body chemistry through steroids, or even altering the flight of the baseball by scuffing it with a a sharpened wedding ring.

We're talking about something that happens to be illegal in the rulebook that probably shouldn't be, a transgression about as serious as driving 60 mph on the LIE, where the limit is 55.

Rothschild raised the point that perhaps Pineda did not understand the seriousness of getting caught using a "foreign substance" on the baseball. But obviously the Yankees didn't do a very good job of impressing that seriousness upon him, or instructing him on how to avoid doing something that would get him into trouble.

And when he did get caught, they all scattered and disavowed any knowledge of his actions, like the voice coming out of the tape recorder at the opening of "Mission: Impossible."

Perhaps it was what Girardi and Rothschild had to do to avoid punishment themselves. But in doing so, they hung Pineda out to dry, when in fact there is very little a professional athlete can do in the clubhouse or in the dugout during a game that someone in a position of authority doesn't know about.

GM Brian Cashman said the right thing when he described the organization as "embarrassed," and it should be.

But what the Yankees seem to be embarrassed over is that they got caught, on live television, in front of millions of eyeballs, doing something that just about every other team gets away with.

Face it, this was a team-wide -- and an organization-wide -- failure, and they all should take the blame.

But when it came time for someone to take the fall, the Yankees let Pineda take it himself, with no one there to catch him.

What's next: Rubber game of this three-game series, Sabathia (2-2, 5.19) versus LHP Felix Doubront (1-2, 5.48), first pitch at 7:10 p.m. Since becoming a Yankee in 2009, CC is 8-7 overall against the Red Sox with a 5.03 ERA, but just 3-4 at Fenway, with a 6.71. And you can bet that neither David Phelps (2 innings, 57 pitches Wednesday night), Matt Thornton (1⅓ innings, 25 pitches) nor Preston Claiborne (2 innings, 32 pitches) will be available to help if he gets into early trouble.