SAN DIEGO — Nine months after what he considers the biggest and best game of his life, Joe Musgrove insisted he is not bitter or angry about the most infamous portion of it, the substance check — requested in a last-ditch effort by Mets manager Buck Showalter — that involved umpires touching his ears.
But it did feel awfully good, he added, to finish his gem of an outing and end the Mets’ season in that deciding NL Wild Card Series matchup, sending his Padres deeper into the playoffs.
Musgrove noted, too, that he won’t take any bad feelings stemming from that episode into his start against the Mets on Sunday at Petco Park.
“The intensity and the confidence that I take away from that will be [part of the Sunday game],” Musgrove told Newsday. “But there’s not going to be, like, this vengeance or this attitude or emotion behind this start. You gotta put that behind you. If anything, that can hurt you more than anything.
“I know a lot of people are hyping it up and want it to be this big thing, and that’s for the fans. It’ll definitely be fun and it’ll feel good to have a really good outing. But I’m not going in there with this vengeance to try to [expletive] kill them.”
Further fuel for Musgrove’s dominance last October, he said: In the middle of the previous night, a group of people — Mets fans, presumably, who somehow had gotten his number — were blowing up his cellphone with calls and texts.
Desperate to sleep, he turned it off. That only sort of worked.
“It was constant — over and over and over, text messages,” he said. “I turned it off and the hotel phone started going off. I unplugged the hotel phone. A lot of the messages were just talking [expletive] about how I was going to [stink], the Mets dominate you, this and that.”
He enjoyed, then, shutting the Mets down the next night. They totaled one hit through five innings, their 101-win season about to be all for naught barring a sudden turnaround.
Showalter emerged from the dugout at the start of the bottom of the sixth to ask umpires to examine Musgrove for illegal sticky substances. They touched his ears, which appeared shiny on the broadcast, but deemed Musgrove within the rules.
Musgrove said there was “a little sense of desperation” in Showalter’s move.
“I get it. As a manager, your job is to do everything you can to help your team win,” he said. “If he does get me out of there, it could’ve been a different outcome. I don’t hold anything against him. You’re down, you gotta try everything you can to get back in the game. Or even if they don’t find anything, there’s a good chance that that shakes me up a little bit and gets me outside of my game or I lose focus and start pitching emotionally.”
Showalter declined to comment, but when the topic came up last month (after Drew Smith was suspended for a foreign substance), he said: “My only regret, I’ve said before, is I didn’t do that earlier in the series. It was obvious what was going on.”
Musgrove retired six of the next seven hitters to finish his seven scoreless innings. After the sixth, he made an obscene gesture toward the Mets’ dugout.
“That moment [of the substance check] kind of fired me up,” Musgrove said. “For me to lash out and act the way I did back to them, it gave me that feeling of OK, I gotta [expletive] finish this thing off now. I already made my mark. I made my move. Now I gotta [expletive] finish the job.”
Musgrove, a San Diego native, added: “No one will ever know how much that game meant other than me.”
As for those fans that had been calling him? “The same numbers texted me after,” Musgrove said. “They were like, damn, bro, you [expletive] gassed us. They were friendly about it.”