Two weeks ago, television cameras showed a sticky substance on the right hand of Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda during an impressive start at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. It was such a non-controversy at the time that the story afterwards wasn't about the act itself, but about how it really wasn't a big deal. (Sample headlines from the following day: "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Michael Pineda Was Cheating and No One Cares.") Even though it's against league rules, pitchers routinely use pine tar or some other sticky substance in colder weather to get a better grip on the ball, which helps them control where their pitches are going. And because that, in turn, keeps batters safe from errant pitches (and because it's so commonly done), it's rarely an issue. No less than David Ortiz said at the time that it was nothing to get worked up about. "Everybody uses pine tar in the league," he said afterwards. "It's not a big deal." Fast forward, then, to last night at Fenway Park. Pineda once again used pine tar, and this time, the Red Sox said something, leading to Pineda's ejection.
In the second inning last night, Red Sox manager John Farrell asked home-plate umpire Gerry Davis to inspect Pineda for a foreign substance. He did, checking his glove, hands, and back before finding a obvious streak of pine tar on his neck and ejecting him from the game.
Farrell is within his rights to call Pineda out: His job is to win, and getting the opposing pitcher out of the game in the second inning gives his team a big advantage, though it opens him up for retaliation in the future should his own pitchers (ahem) do something similar.
But Farrell's reasoning is odd. Here's what Farrell said two weeks ago, after cameras caught Pineda using pine tar:
"Guys look to create a grip, but typically you're not looking to be as blatant [as Pineda]."
And here's Farrell prior to last night's game, when asked about Pineda:
"I would expect that if it's used, it's more discreet than the last time."
And here's Farrell after the game:
"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."
In other words, Farrell says he doesn't care that Pineda used pine tar to get a grip on the ball, but believes he should be punished because he didn't play the game of hiding it. (Farrell's not the only one who thinks this, by the way. Michael Kay made a similar point on the YES broadcast.)
Now, Pineda should have been more discreet, if only to reduce the chance of something like this happening. But considering how the incident two weeks ago was greeted with a collective shrug, even by members of the Red Sox, he probably didn't expect to be called on it. His real sin, it seems, wasn't cheating; it's that he didn't try to pretend otherwise.