Commentary

Pineda's folly could sink the season

Fenway's funny scene won't be so funny if Yankees miss playoffs by one game

Updated: April 24, 2014, 1:34 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Just in case Michael Pineda never makes it as a New York Yankee, he decided to prep himself for a second career as a stand-up comic. How else can anyone explain a "Saturday Night Live" skit disguised as a Fenway Park start against the defending World Series champs?

Funny? This was Kevin Hart times Steve Carell funny. The same pitcher who used pine tar on his throwing hand in his last start against the Boston Red Sox, only to get away with it, decided to apply the same PED (performance-enhancing dirt) to the right side of his neck Wednesday night, in full view of millions of viewers and, ultimately, the umpire who tossed him from the game.

Gerry Davis marched to the mound in the middle of Grady Sizemore's second-inning at-bat, on John Farrell's request. Nobody on the visiting side of this hostile rivalry blamed Farrell in the least. In fact, the Yankees all but nominated him for Manager of the Year.

[+] EnlargeMichael Pineda
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesAfter a thorough check of Michael Pineda's person, plate umpire Gerry Davis gave him the heave-ho.

"I would want my manager to do what John Farrell did," GM Brian Cashman said after this 5-1 defeat.

The Red Sox had scored two runs on four hits in the first inning, sending Pineda scrambling for his illegal helper. Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild had warned Pineda against trying this stunt again, but he must've figured his bosses didn't know what they were talking about. Either way, Farrell yielded to his (ahem) moral obligation to protect the game's integrity, and asked Davis to conduct an investigation that had an Inspector Clouseau feel to it.

The charge? Pineda was using pine tar to manage the chilly conditions (50 degrees at game time) and a Red Sox lineup angry about the way it was treated by Masahiro Tanaka the night before. It was a Class C misdemeanor.

"I [didn't] feel the ball," Pineda would say, "and I don't want to hit anybody."

With the brown sludge in a most conspicuous spot, Davis first checked Pineda's glove, then his arms, and then his back as he turned the pitcher around. The ump did everything but insert a tongue depressor in Pineda's mouth and tell him to go ahh. When Davis finally spotted the evidence, he pulled his own glove off his right hand with his teeth, dabbed his index finger three times against the sludge on Pineda's neck, rubbed his finger against his thumb, and immediately signaled for the starter to head for the showers.

Pineda got a tap on the rump from Derek Jeter on the way there. Soon enough, with an ESPN dugout camera showing the distraught pitcher sitting in the tunnel as he was counseled by Rothschild and trainer Steve Donohue, Girardi slapped it in a way that would've made Alec Baldwin proud.

"If I was really going to tear up the camera," he said, "I would've tore it up."

How much pine tar is too much? George Brett wasn't around to ask. The last time Pineda was caught using a foreign substance against the Red Sox, he insisted it was dirt. By the time Farrell was informed on that April 10 night that cameras had picked up the substance, Pineda had already cleaned it from his palm.

Pineda I [didn't] feel the ball, and I don't want to hit anybody.

-- Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda

In the end, Davis ruled that it wasn't dirt under Pineda's ear Wednesday night, leaving past and present big leaguers to ask themselves the same question:

How dumb can you possibly be?

Pitchers everywhere, including Farrell's pitchers, have long used illegal lotions in cold weather to get a better grip on the ball. Hitters have been well aware of this practice, and have accepted it without complaint. They figure that the better control a pitcher has, the better the chance he won't bounce fastballs off the side of their heads.

Only Pineda was so blatant this time that he left Farrell with no choice. Instead of sticking the pine tar in a discreet location, Pineda practically spray-painted this message across the Green Monster:

I'm cheating. Someone please catch me.

Pineda apologized to his teammates and promised it would never happen again. "I feel so sad," he said.

Girardi should've been red hot with rage over this, but he struck a conciliatory tone with the news media, describing Pineda as a well-meaning kid who simply "made an error in judgment." In fact, Girardi was less forgiving with the ESPN camera that, he said, was meant for dugout viewing only.

Cashman? He'd been warned by his old friend and current Bud Selig lieutenant, Joe Torre, to make sure Pineda got smarter than he was on April 10. And as stunned as the GM was about the pitcher's mind-bending choice, he was probably more stunned that nobody in his employ -- a coach, a video guy, a clubhouse guy -- saw Pineda slap on the pine tar as if it were aftershave and stopped him from taking the field.

[+] EnlargeJohn Farrell
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images Red Sox manager John Farrell had no choice but to point out the suspicious brown smudge on Pineda's neck.

"I'm embarrassed that we had an organizational breakdown that allowed this to happen," Cashman said.

The whole thing made for a few good laughs throughout baseball, and maybe the weirdest scene involving a Yankee pitcher since a biblical storm of Lake Erie midges attacked Joba Chamberlain in the fall of 2007. Typical of the Yanks-Sox rivalry, it was a wild and crazy night, missing only a Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer rematch and a George Steinbrenner rant.

But with Ivan Nova likely headed for season-ending surgery, and with Pineda likely facing a suspension, the Yanks didn't see anything remotely cute about it. Before Wednesday night's game, Girardi hoped aloud that Pineda and his other starters "don't try to do too much" to compensate for Nova's absence.

Pineda tried to do way too much against the Red Sox, and what a shame it turned out to be. He was 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA entering this start, finally honoring the faith the Yankees had placed in him in 2012 when they dealt their top prospect, Jesus Montero, to Seattle for his powerful right arm.

Pineda missed two full seasons after blowing out his shoulder, and now he might miss two starts after suffering the mother of all brain cramps. Beyond that, he's now exposed himself as an athlete who doesn't believe in his abilities in cold weather. Good luck with that in October, Michael.

If there's even going to be an October, that is. What if the Yankees end Jeter's career by losing out on a playoff spot by one game, or two, in part because one of their most talented pitchers got himself ejected and suspended over something so impossibly foolish?

Then Michael Pineda's comedy act at Fenway won't seem the least bit funny.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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