Michael Pineda’s reputation did not escape Fenway Park unsmeared.
The New York Yankees righthander put himself in a sticky situation and smack dab in the middle of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry on Wednesday night, getting ejected in the second inning of the Red Sox’ 5-1 win for having pine tar smeared on his neck like a bad tattoo. You can’t make this stuff up.
This was a black mark — or is that brown mark? — on Pineda and the proud Pinstripe brand. How stupid or oblivious do you have to be to twice slather a foreign substance on your body against your archrival in a span of 13 days? Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff would have been embarrassed to have this volume of viscid substance on him.
Pineda already had garnered the attention and suspicion of the Red Sox the first time he faced them this season, back on April 10, when he shut the Sox out for six innings in a 4-1 New York win at Yankee Stadium. Television cameras caught what appeared to be either a glob of pine tar or a small oil spill on Pineda’s right hand.
The Sox, who had their own issue last year with Clay Buchholz being accused, did not raise any objection during that game. Pineda claimed it was just dirt and sweat. Now he is facing a suspension.
Over-the-top smear campaigns are acceptable in American politics but there is a limit in America’s pastime, especially when it’s these ancient enemies. The Sox were on the lookout for Pineda’s smear tactics this time, especially after Major League Baseball claimed part of the reason it didn’t discipline Pineda was because the Sox never lodged a complaint.
Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman said Pineda forced the hand of Red Sox manager John Farrell, who said before the game he expected Pineda to be more “discreet” this time.
Mr. Magoo could have seen the goo on Pineda’s neck.
“I think we’re all embarrassed,” said Cashman. “We as a group are embarrassed because it takes place. Michael is embarrassed. I think we’re embarrassed that somehow he took the field in a position with that like that. It’s just obviously a bad situation. It clearly forced the opponent’s hand to do something that I’m sure they didn’t want to do, but they had no choice but to do. Obviously, we’ll deal with the ramifications for that now.”
One of the 1,256 unwritten rules of baseball is that it’s OK to bend the rules as long as you’re not blatant and brazen about it. The doctoring of the baseball has been going on for years. The ball has been spit on, scuffed with a belt, slathered with Vaseline, filed down with an emery board and sandpaper. Gaylord Perry crafted a Hall of Fame career by, ahem, finessing the baseball.
So, Pineda’s crime isn’t really using pine tar, although Major League rule 8.02 (b) prohibits a pitcher from using a foreign substance on the ball.
It’s using it so blatantly that the Red Sox were forced to say something about it. This was as much about sheer stupidity and disregard/disrespect for The Code as it was about using pine tar.
“It’s one of those things; we all know everyone does it,” said Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “There’s no doubt I’m all for it. But you just can’t do it so blatantly. John didn’t want to go out there, it puts him in a bad spot. But rules are the rules.”
The goop hit the fan with two outs in the second and the Sox up, 2-0.
Television cameras caught Pineda with a dark, gooey substance smudged across his neck. This is normal if you’re changing the oil in a car or repaving a driveway, but not if you’re pitching in the major leagues. It had not been there in the first inning when the Sox scored twice against Pineda, who admitted after the game the substance was pine tar.
“In the first inning I no feel the ball,” said Pineda, a Spanish speaker who deserves credit for not high-tailing it back to the hotel, and taking questions in English. “I don’t want to hit anybody, so I started using it.”
With a 1-2 count on Grady Sizemore, Farrell came out at 7:50 p.m. and lodged a complaint with home plate umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis.
Davis checked Pineda’s glove and his arm. He asked him to turn around.
The crew chief then swiped a finger on the goo on Pineda’s neck, studied it, and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. He said, “That’s pine tar,” and ejected Pineda, who was replaced by David Phelps.
“It’s a young kid. I don’t think he’s trying to do anything to cheat,” said Girardi. “I think he’s just trying to go out there to compete. It’s unfortunate it happened. We’ll deal with it.”
I wonder if Girardi thinks Pineda’s actions are worse than Ryan Dempster throwing at steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez last year? In baseball’s twisted canon that line of thinking is conceivable, even acceptable.
Pineda had come into Wednesday night’s game as one of the hottest pitchers in the American League. The gunk-baller was 2-1 with a 1.00 earned run average. He had yet to allow more than one run in a start.
But the Sox found Pineda to be more hittable Wednesday night, when he didn’t have the remnants of the Exxon Valdez on his right hand.
It only took two batters for the Sox to strike this time. Sizemore, who entered the game mired in a 1-for-26 slump, tripled to right to lead off the bottom of the first. Dustin Pedroia drove him home with a single to center field.
The Sox added another run in the first when Derek Jeter failed to scoop up a two-out hopper up the middle by Pierzynski, allowing Pedroia to score from third.
But that was all prologue to Pineda’s smear job for the ages.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.