There’s much ado regarding the brown substance Michael Pineda had on his pitching hand during the Red Sox v. Yankees game last night. Pineda claims it was dirt because his palms sweat more than a [insert your own joke about teenage shenanigans here]. Pineda maintains this claim despite his sweaty palms problem miraculous clearing up after the 4th inning when his hands were clean. Everyone else thinks the gunk on Pineda’s hands was pine tar: you, me, the Boston media, the national media, your mom, my mom, Pineda’s mom, your dog’s mom, etc.
Does it matter? Yes, but not in the way that you’re thinking. Buchholz, who’s no stranger to accusations of cheating, has the best take on the Pineda controversy when he was asked if it was an issue:
“No, especially on cold windy nights, it’s tough to get a grip on the baseball,” Buchholz said. “I had that instance last year in Toronto, people said I had stuff all over my body you can use — rosin, water, the whole sunscreen stuff, whatever. I’d rather have a grip on the baseball and semi-know where it’s going [than] have no grip and get somebody hurt.”
A pitcher not having a firm grip on the ball is the crux of the matter, and perhaps this is why were not reading about complaints from Red Sox hitters regarding Pineda. (Besides Jonny Gomes, who had some negative comments. But Gomes is like Mikey and he hates everything.) Hitters place their lives in the pitcher’s hands every time they’re at the plate, and they seem content knowing that pitchers are doing everything possible to make sure an errant fastball isn’t flying towards their face because they couldn’t grip the baseball. In some cases, pitchers will use pine tar – which, technically, is cheating. But you don’t see the hitters complaining.
As for whether Pineda using pine tar improved his performance against the Red Sox lineup, some will say yes and point out that Pineda no-hit the Red Sox through four innings. But this is the same Red Sox lineup who, a day before, got one-hit through five innings by the Rangers’ Robbie Ross. Ross isn’t a star, and he wouldn’t even be in the Rangers’ starting rotation if that team hadn’t suffered some early injuries to its starters. Ross also walked five Red Sox hitters, and the one hit was a weak squibber that didn’t make it past the infield grass.
The Red Sox hit into seemingly countless double plays during their series with the Rangers, and they struck out 12 times against Yankees’ pitchers last night. Whether Robbie Ross is pitching clean or Michael Pineda is pitching dirty, the Red Sox are not hitting, period. They’re falling behind in counts and swinging at breaking balls, which results in either a swing and miss or a ground out. Instead of being able to foul off these pitches, work a count to 3-2 and force the pitcher to throw a fastball, the Red Sox are swinging into outs. That’s the issue, not pine tar.