A.J. Pierzynski saw reporters crowding around his locker Wednesday night after the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 5-1, and he knew what the questions would be about.
Yankees starter Michael Pineda had been ejected in the second inning when umpires found a glob of pine tar on his neck. The glaring breach of protocol was the story of the night in baseball.
After patiently answering a few questions about Pineda, Pierzynski became annoyed.
“It just [expletive],” the catcher said.
Pierzynski wanted questions about John Lackey’s powerful start. Or how the Red Sox finally scored a few runs in the first inning. Maybe something about Mike Napoli getting three more hits.
“It took away from John Lackey. It took away from the game. It took away from us playing a good game, a game we needed to win,” Pierzynski said.
That was the mood throughout the clubhouse. The last-place Sox had lost four of their first five games against the Yankees this season, including a 9-3 thumping Tuesday. The Sox also haven’t been playing well at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox respected that manager John Farrell had to raise the issue with the umpires. But Pineda was New York’s problem, not theirs.
“What do I think? I was trying to win the game,” Dustin Pedroia said.
Pineda stole headlines away from Lackey, who allowed one run over eight innings on a night his team needed rest for an overworked bullpen.
Lackey (3-2) gave up seven hits without a walk and struck out 11. He threw 84 of his 111 pitches for strikes.
“I was thinking about trying to give the bullpen a rest, for sure,” Lackey said. “We’ve got some guys down there who had been working pretty good the last week or so, and I was trying to give those guys a breather and win a ballgame.”
Lackey had allowed 12 earned runs on 20 hits over 11 innings in his previous two starts. That included an outing against the Yankees in New York April 12 when Lackey gave up four home runs.
But the Yankees did not score until the sixth inning in the rematch. By then, the Sox had a 4-0 lead.
“He had a curveball, he had a slider, he threw some changeups, he had a good sinker. He was just in control tonight. He looked like the John Lackey of the first two starts, not the last two starts,” Pierzynski said.
Lackey and Koji Uehara combined to strike out 14 without a walk. The Sox collected 10 hits, four with runners in scoring position. It was one of their more crisp games of the season.
“We needed to execute in all phases at a much higher level. We were able to do that tonight, starting with John and starting with the at-bats we put up,” Farrell said.
Pineda had a rough first inning, giving up two runs and throwing 30 pitches on a cold and windy night.
Grady Sizemore led off with a line drive down the line in right field that went for a triple. Sizemore came into the game in a 1-for-26 slump but was still hitting first.
Pedroia followed with an RBI single. After David Ortiz flied to deep center field, Napoli dropped a broken-bat single into right field.
With two outs, Pierzynski grounded a ball up the middle. Derek Jeter had a play on the ball, particularly against a slow runner such as Pierzynski. But the ball went between his legs and Pedroia scored.
Pierzynski was charitably credited with an RBI single. Before Wednesday, the Sox had scored twice in the first inning all season.
Pineda got the final out of the first inning and the first two outs of the second inning before he got ahead of Sizemore, 1 and 2.
By that point, television cameras showed pine tar below Pineda’s right ear. Farrell emerged from the dugout and asked home plate umpire Gerry Davis to check Pineda.
The four umpires went to the mound and after a brief examination of Pineda that included touching his neck, he was ejected.
“It was pine tar,” Davis said.
When Pineda faced the Red Sox in New York April 10, cameras clearly showed pine tar on the palm of his right hand. The Red Sox did not complain to the umpires that night, watching as Pineda allowed one run over six innings and struck out seven.
Pineda claimed it was dirt on his hand. Major League Baseball announced the next day that Pineda would not be disciplined but that the issue would be discussed with the Yankees.
Pitchers commonly use pine tar or another sticky substance to get a better grip on the ball on cold nights. But most are at least somewhat discretionary about it. Pineda now faces a suspension.
“It looked from the dugout that there was a substance on his neck. You could see it. I could see it from the dugout,” Farrell said. “Given the last time we faced him, felt like it was a necessity to say something.”
David Phelps, who replaced Pineda, got the final out of the second inning before giving up two runs in the third.
Pedroia reached on a throwing error by Jeter then took third base on a single by Ortiz. Napoli followed with a ground-rule double to right field, the ball landing inside the foul line and hopping into the stands.
A wild pitch scored Ortiz and the Red Sox had a 4-0 lead.
The Sox added a run in the eighth inning. Xander Bogaerts singled, advanced on the third error of the game by the Yankees, and scored on a single by Brock Holt.
Napoli was 3 for 4, raising his batting average to .309. Pedroia was 2 for 5 and is 12 of 34 since receiving a cortisone shot in his left wrist April 14. Ortiz was on base twice, and Thursday the Red Sox are expected to activate right fielder Shane Victorino off the disabled list.
“I feel like we’re coming together now,” Napoli said. “Getting Shane back will be big for us because he does so many things.
The Red Sox (10-12) can take the series Thursday with Felix Doubront facing CC Sabathia. The attention, they hope, will be off pine tar.
“We’re here to win the game,” Pierzynski said. “That’s all I cared about.”