Commentary

Are Red Sox in sticky situation?

Michael Pineda's pine tar incident could put John Farrell's team in crosshairs

Updated: April 24, 2014, 9:23 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- OK, so what happens next?

There is, after all, a precedent of gamesmanship that suggests the New York Yankees will not let the Boston Red Sox -- especially the Red Sox -- get away with an act that led to the ejection and probable suspension of Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda for illegally applying pine tar to his neck.

Red Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged that he was leaving himself open to a response of some nature when he asked plate umpire Gerry Davis to check Pineda in the second inning.

[+] EnlargeMichael Pineda
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaThe smear of pine tar on Michael Pineda's neck was so obvious John Farrell felt he had little choice but to call the Yankees pitcher on it.

"We'll see what tomorrow brings," Farrell said after Wednesday night's 5-1 win over the Yankees. "I don't know that. As obvious as this was, I felt it needed to be checked at the time."

Farrell, a former pitcher, said he has never been involved in a game as a manager or coach in which his team asked that a pitcher be inspected.

"I'm well aware of what the thought across the field might be," he said. "Maybe more of a willingness to have our guys checked. But again, I think there's an accepted level of some additive used to gain a grip. Just felt like in the two starts that we've had against Pineda, that's been a little bit above that."

Here's the thing: The major league rulebook takes one position. The Red Sox, even as they profited from Pineda's ejection, took another Wednesday night.

The rulebook (Rule 8.02, to be precise): It's illegal for a pitcher to a have foreign substance in his possession or on his person. It's also illegal to apply that substance to a baseball. That's why Davis threw out Pineda after finding pine tar on his neck in the second inning. Davis said it was pine tar. The Yankees admitted afterward it was pine tar.

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The Sox? The message that was repeated in so many words was that it's OK to cheat -- it might even be in everyone's best interests that you cheat -- but for god's sake, don't be so obvious about it.

"Guys do it," Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I don't have a problem with guys doing it as a hitter, especially on a night where it's cold and windy.

"Put it on your hat, put it on your pants. Put it on your belt. Put it on your glove. Whatever you've got to do. But at some point you can't do it that blatantly. I think that's what the biggest issue was. No one has an issue with him doing it, but that it was so blatant."

When Pineda faced the Red Sox April 10 in New York, he had what appeared to be pine tar on the palm of his pitching hand. By the time Farrell became apprised of that fact, Pineda had wiped his hand clean, and the Sox did not make an in-game issue of it, though afterward Farrell objected to how "blatant" Pineda was.

But Wednesday night, when the area between Pineda's silver necklace and his right ear was lathered with pine tar, Farrell said he felt he'd been given no choice.

[+] EnlargeJohn Farrell
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images John Farrell acknowledged he was leaving his team open to a response from the opposition by talking to the umpires about Michael Pineda.
"It looked from the dugout that there was substance on his neck," Farrell said. "You could see it. I could see it from the dugout. It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark, and given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something. When it's that obvious, something has to be said.

"Again, in conditions like tonight and the last time we faced him in New York where it was cold, I think hitters will say we want a pitcher to have a grip where a pitch doesn't get away from a guy. But when it's that obvious, I think there are better ways to conceal it, and that hasn't been the case."

Red Sox pitcher John Lackey, who struck out 11 and did not walk a batter in eight strong innings, a performance made even more impressive by the cool temperatures and 25 mph winds, cut off in mid-question someone asking for his thoughts on pitchers using substances to better their grip.

"I'm not going to talk about all that," he said.

Lackey was equally dismissive when asked if he thought the Yankees might demand that he be checked.

"I'm not concerned about that," he said.

Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves spoke afterward about the necessity of the pitcher having a good grip, for the pitcher and hitter alike.

"I think grip is very important," he said. "I think if that was not the case, a lot of guys would be going home in wheelchairs because it's cold. But you cannot be that blatant about it."

And if opposing managers demand inspections of Red Sox pitchers?

"We're safe in that aspect," Nieves said. "We don't have to worry about that, and we'll go from there. We certainly use a lot of rosin."

How safe the Sox are remains to be seen. Last May, Toronto broadcasters and former pitchers Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst -- Morris a near Hall of Famer, Hayhurst with short stints with the Padres and Blue Jays -- accused pitcher Clay Buchholz of having sunscreen mixed with rosin on his left arm. Toronto manager John Gibbons did not ask for an inspection, but coincidentally, the Red Sox travel to Toronto for three games beginning Friday, and Buchholz is scheduled to pitch Saturday.

Sox ace Jon Lester also drew attention for appearing to rub his fingers in a greenish substance in his glove during Game 1 of the World Series against the Cardinals. But again, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny did not raise the issue.

"I've never seen a guy ejected for using a substance," Pierzynski said. "It's one of those things, we all know everyone does it. Catchers have pine tar on shinguards. It's not a big deal, as long as it's not blatant.

"John [Farrell], it's tough for him, it puts him in a tough spot, but rules are rules."

As for the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman said he was embarrassed for the organization, that Pineda should have never been out there like that, and that he applauded Farrell doing what he did. Retaliation, he said, "was not anything that is on our mind."

Yankee manager Joe Girardi, though, kept his options open. Check Sox pitchers? "If there's something really obvious, maybe you do it," he said. "I don't know what I would do."

Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York contributed to this report.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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