David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
With teams having more video capability these days than a NASA control room, it's a safe bet that the Red Sox -- no matter what they said afterward -- knew about the brownish goop spackled to the palm of Michael Pineda's pitching hand Thursday night.
If Twitter was abuzz early in the game with screen grabs and video loops -- courtesy of the Boston feed, NESN, of course -- we assumed that Sox manager John Farrell eventually would visit plate umpire Bob Davidson to put a stop to Pineda's mastery.
Or at least check the baseball, right?
But it never happened. Although Pineda held the Sox hitless until Xander Bogaerts' leadoff single in the fifth and struck out seven in six innings-plus, Farrell kept silent all night.
Could he have derailed Pineda before he really got rolling? Farrell might have made a convincing argument. But he, um, didn't see anything, remember?
"A foreign substance is illegal,'' Farrell said. "But by the time I became aware of it, in the fifth inning, it wasn't there. His palm was clean.''
In diving into the latest episode of GooGate, it's important to note that two of the most famous cases from last season involved Boston's best starters, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
Last May, the Blue Jays' TV booth brought attention to footage showing Buchholz, who was pitcher of the month for April, repeatedly touching a shiny substance on his left forearm. Buchholz dismissed the charges, saying the goop was nothing more nefarious than rosin.
Lester's case seemed straight out of "The X Files.'' In Game 1 of the World Series, there appeared to be a glowing, neon-green substance on his glove. Again, Lester blamed rosin.
But neither Pineda nor Joe Girardi would cop to anything as innocent as rosin after Thursday night's 4-1 Yankees win. They pleaded total ignorance -- oddly enough, just like Farrell.
Pineda said it was sweat mixed with dirt. And Girardi? He turned the postgame news conference into an Abbott and Costello routine. "I never saw it,'' he said. "There's nothing really for me to talk about.''
Honestly? Didn't see the sticky, brown smudge of goop?
"I really don't have anything to say on the subject,'' he added, "except that he pitched great and we're glad to have him.''
So what gives? The best explanation is that most pitchers skirt this rule in some fashion -- the only variants being the type of goo and favorite hiding place -- and that has managers staying mum on the subject. Farrell, a former pitcher, is plenty familiar with the practice, and there's no way he's going to open that Pandora's Box for his own staff. Pineda's palm appeared to be caked with pine tar, and still Farrell refused to raise any objection.
"The Red Sox didn't bring it to our attention,'' crew chief Brian O'Nora said, "so there's nothing we can do about it.''
Rule 8.02 states a pitcher is not allowed to "apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.'' It goes on to list a few outlawed examples: the shine ball, spitball and mud ball.
Whatever Pineda was throwing with that sticky slime, the Sox hitters mirrored their manager's passivity on the subject.
"I don't know what pine tar does to the baseball -- maybe a better grip,'' David Ortiz said. "But his velocity and slider were good tonight. That's all I can tell you. His pitching was good.''
Early in the season, when the weather is cold and dry, hitters really don't mind if pitchers dabble in this extracurricular stuff. A better grip means better command, which means they're less likely to get drilled in the head with a 90-mph fastball.
We can say this much: Pineda, in his long-awaited return from labrum surgery, is looking like the dominant pitcher the Yankees believed they were getting in that trade with the Mariners. His fastball sat in the 94-mph range Thursday night, peaking at 96, and his slider has been as nasty a swing-and-miss pitch as Masahiro Tanaka's vaunted splitter.
It's been an amazing comeback for Pineda, and if he stays healthy, this could be a special season for him. Might want to hold the sauce, though, or find somewhere else to conceal it.