David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
BOSTON - If everybody breaks Rule 8.02, then how did Michael Pineda become one of the rare few actually punished for doing so Wednesday night at Fenway Park?
We can't pin it solely on Pineda, who stood in the middle of the tiny visitors clubhouse, surrounded by reporters, and took all the blame anyway. Yes, Pineda slathered the pine tar on the right side of his neck -- in plain sight of the Red Sox dugout -- so he's ultimately responsible.
But why did he not know the clandestine secrets of every other pitcher? As the Yankees explained it, Pineda was reckless and maybe a little desperate after struggling in the gusty, 50-degree temperatures during the first inning.
Rather than go back to the original spot that drew the attention in the first place -- the palm of his pitching hand -- Pineda swabbed it on his neck instead. Just like last time, Joe Girardi insisted that he never saw the sticky substance on Pineda, as did pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Should they have? Tough to say. But if Pineda is as naive as the Yankees claim, and was unaware of the consequences, then someone had to keep a closer eye on him. Or maybe teach him a few tricks of the trade. And that's not easy to own up to.
"You want me to tell him how to cheat better?" Rothschild said.
Sort of, yes. And Red Sox manager John Farrell implied that as well. As we've learned, the act of using a foreign substance is not the problem here. Just don't let us see you doing it.
"I fully respect on a cold night you're trying to get a little bit of a grip," Farrell said. "But when it's that obvious, something has got to be said. Any substance is illegal. But I think there's a certain acceptance that it's used and it's discreetly used. Personally, I don't think this is the case."
Less than two weeks ago, when Pineda was exposed for spackling what looked to be the same gooey substance on the palm of his pitching hand, everyone claimed it was no big deal -- including Farrell and the Red Sox. Many insisted that pine tar or sun block or hair gel was necessary to grip the baseball on chilly nights. They also said Rule 8.02, which prohibited such doctoring, was a silly law that shouldn't be enforced anyway.
But this isn't about Farrell doing the unthinkable and having Pineda ejected -- with a suspension almost certain to follow. A rule is a rule, after all. Plus, when this first happened, back on April 10 in the Bronx, Farrell essentially put the Yankees on notice.
So what happened this time? Pineda was rattled by a turbulent first inning, when the Red Sox whacked him for four hits and two runs. As a known offender, Pineda was scrutinized from the moment he stepped on the mound. But with the TV cameras focusing on his clean right palm, Pineda was presumed innocent. Until the second inning, when he was shown with smudges of a dark substance on the right side of his neck that weren't there the inning before.
What was Pineda thinking? And how about the Yankees, who should have made sure that if Pineda did need some pine tar, at least help him put it in an undetectable spot. To the Red Sox, enough was enough, and they finally pushed the button.
"I think we're all embarrassed," Brian Cashman said. "I think we as a group are embarrassed that this is taking place."
We're not saying it was their job to pat down Pineda before he left the dugout. Just work with him to figure out a less obvious way of flaunting the rule -- again -- in the Red Sox faces, in their own ballpark. The Yankees have been holding his hand since Day 1 of spring training. Why would they stop now? To avoid getting pine tar on themselves?
Now it's going to cost them. According to Rule 8.02, getting busted for a foreign substance results in an automatic suspension, the length of which is determined by Major League Baseball. In 2012, the Rays' Joel Peralta was suspended for eight games for having pine tar on his glove.
Pineda's comeback began as a feel-good story. Now it's a sticky mess, but don't blame Farrell. The Yankees had it coming.