NEW YORK — Michael Pineda had retired 10 of 11 Red Sox batters by the time anyone spotted the sticky, brown stain on his right hand.
As soon as Pineda fired a 93-mile-per-hour fastball by David Ortiz in the fourth inning, NESN announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy started asking questions.
“What is on the hand of Michael Pineda?” Orsillo said.
Remy’s first assumption was pine tar.
“Could be Stickum,” Remy said.
When Pineda rubbed his hand into his glove after getting A.J. Pierzynski to fly out in the fifth inning, Remy surmised that it was to create a better grip.
“That’s just one man’s opinion,” Remy said.
By the time word got to Red Sox manager John Farrell, there was already a mini Twitterstorm. Screenshots went back and forth of Pineda’s hand and wrist, as well as a similar substance on his hand in his previous start in Toronto.
“I became aware of it in the fourth inning through the video that some had seen,” Farrell said. “Then when he came back out for the fifth inning, it looked, based on what it was told to me where it was located, it looked like the palm of his right hand was clean. That’s the extent of it.”
Over six innings, Pineda bottled up the Red Sox offense, striking out seven and pushing the Yankees to a 4-1 win in the opener of their four-game set.
But afterward, the question of what was on Pineda’s hand was still unanswered.
The righthander said it wasn’t an illegal substance. Just a mix of dirt and sweat.
“I’m not using pine tar,” Pineda said. “It’s dirt. I’m sweating from my hands too much in between innings.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked repeatedly postgame if he knew what the substance was.
“There’s really not much for me to speak on concerning that,” Girardi said. “All I know is he pitched really well and, you know, we’re glad to have him back.”
The question was posed several times, in several ways, but Girardi insisted that he never saw any substance.
When he heard a snicker among the press corps, Girardi asked, “Is something funny?”
Returning from shoulder surgery in May 2012, Pineda was just happy to take the mound for the first time at Yankee Stadium. He was making just his second start since 2011.
“This my first time winning in Yankee Stadium,” Pineda said. “This my first time pitching in Yankee Stadium. So I’m very, very excited tonight.”
At no point, Pineda said, did any of the umpires or anyone from the Sox’ dugout ask what was on his hand.
Crew chief Brian O’Nora said it was never brought to his attention.
“No one said a word,” O’Nora said.
O’Nora said it wasn’t something the umpires could address on the field without the Red Sox bringing it to their attention.
Just last year, the Red Sox were involved in a similar stir.
While Clay Buchholz was throwing seven shutout innings in a 10-1 win in Toronto May 1, Blue Jays commentators Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris accused Buchholz of using a substance on his forearm to manipulate the baseball.
On the opposite side of the controversy Thursday, Buchholz said pitchers often use tacky substances to get a firm grip on the ball.
“Especially on cold, windy nights, it’s tough to get a grip on a baseball,” Buchholz said. “I had that incident in Toronto where I had stuff all over my body. You can use rosin, water, and sunscreen stuff. Either you have a grip on the baseball and have a semi-idea of where it’s going, or get somebody hurt.
“As hard as [Pineda] was throwing early, nobody wants to get hit by that, especially around the head. If you’re scuffing the ball that’s one thing — or creating more control. If it’s giving you an edge that’s one thing. But I’ve never seen any pitcher have an edge by using it. You use it to get the best grip possible.”
In terms of safety, Sox catcher David Ross agreed with Buchholz.
“I’d rather have the guy know where there the ball’s going,” Ross said. “I don’t think he was cheating. I don’t look at it that way. Some guys might see it that way.”
Yankees catcher Brian McCann said he had no idea about the alleged substance on Pineda’s hand until after the game.
After a strong spring training, Girardi took Thursday’s start as another positive step for Pineda. He said he wasn’t concerned that the fuss would distract from Pineda’s performance.
“I don’t think so,” Girardi said. “Not in our clubhouse it won’t.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.