Nobody likes a cheater. We're all raised to follow the rules and play fair. But in the sports world, especially the baseball world, the blurring of the line of right and wrong is an unspoken understanding between all players and coaches and there are plenty of familiar phrases that speak to that mindset. "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying". "It ain't cheating if you don't get caught". And so on.
Michael Pineda was trying last night. He was very obviously struggling with his grip and command of the baseball in the bottom of the 1st inning due to the colder temperatures and wind blowing through Fenway Park. The guys on the ESPN broadcast pointed it out no more than 10-12 pitches into the inning. He labored through it, went to the dugout, and came back out for the 2nd with a little substance aid to help solve his grip problem. His method of using this substance was so blatant and flagrant that it forced John Farrell to point it out to home plate umpire Gerry Davis, who very easily identified the pine tar smudge on Pineda's neck and ejected him from the game. Pineda was already toeing the line of baseball rules again by going to the pine tar. He got caught doing it and so he was cheating.
A few things here. One, I don't want to get into the discussion of "why is it OK for hitters to use it and not pitchers?" That's not the point. The point is that pine tar is considered a foreign and the way the rules are written, pitchers are not allowed to use foreign substances. Pineda was breaking that rule, in the most obvious and brazen way possible short of bringing the pine tar out to the mound with him and setting it down next to the rosin bag. He deserved to be ejected and he deserves to be suspended. Dude just got a free pass from MLB on it 2 weeks ago. Why does he deserve another one when he showed last night that he didn't get the message about being more subtle?
More important than the argument of what he deserves, to me at least, is the question of why Pineda thought this was a good idea. What was he thinking? Seriously. I'd really like to know how the thought process went in his head when he decided to smudge a glob of pine tar across his neck? Does he not know about HDTV? Did he really believe that nobody was going to notice it? Did he forget what happened 2 weeks ago when he pitched against the Red Sox? Does he not have any self or situational awareness? I'd really like to know because it was such an astoundingly idiotic thing to do. I caught it on him as soon as ESPN came back from commercial and he threw his last warmup pitch. I'm sure Jeter and Kelly Johnson could see it with their naked eyes from where they were standing on the field.
Which brings me to the other colossally stupid part of this whole deal, the fact that everybody else in the dugout allowed him to leave looking like that. Come on, guys! There's about 30-35 of you in there. Are you really telling me that none of you noticed the gigantic, off-colored, shiny smear on Pineda's neck? If nobody actually saw him apply it, fine. I'm sure there's a "look the other way" mentality amongst teammates when it comes to blurring those lines of fair and foul. But nobody with functioning eyes could have missed the smear, and as teammates and coaches you can't allow Pineda to step back onto the field like that. If Pineda really had forgotten about 2 weeks ago, there has to be at least 1 other person in that clubhouse who remembers it. Step up and help your boy. Coach him on how to apply the stuff to his glove or belt or hat brim or something. Don't let him stroll back out there with the pine tar equivalent of a big flashing neon light that says "I Have Pine Tar On Me!"
After the game, Pineda apologized to his teammates and said it won't happen again. Joe rationalized and said he thought Pineda was trying to compete, not cheat. I thought John Farrell summed it up best by saying this:
"I fully respect that on a cold night, you're trying to get a grip. But when it's that obvious something has got to be said."
Boom. That's it in a nutshell. Farrell gets it. Everybody does. That's why nobody on the Sox made a big deal out of it after the game 2 weeks. There's a line of acceptable and unacceptable within the line of right and wrong though, and Pineda crossed that line last night. He deserves whatever suspension MLB gives him, the Yankees deserve the embarrassment that Cash said they all felt after the game, and they deserve the headache and roster hits they'll have to take to replace Pineda in the rotation and cover for a tired bullpen.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)