Why Didn't the Red Sox Call Out the Yankees for Cheating?

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In Thursday night's Red Sox-Yankees game, TV cameras caught Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda with a sticky brown substance on his hand that looked a lot like illegal pine tar. Normally, that would be cause to get the pitcher thrown out of the game and probably suspended, but the Red Sox not only didn't speak up, they seemed surprisingly okay with the cheating.

That pine tar-like gunk on Pineda's hand was noticeable to all watching the game.

Using pine tar allows pitchers to have a better grip of the ball, but it is deemed an illegal "foreign substance" by baseball's rules. And perhaps buoyed by that pine tar, Pineda held Boston without a hit for the first four innings. He came back out for the fifth inning without the brown smudge and promptly gave up the first hit of the night.

After the game, Pineda denied that the substance was pine tar. "It's dirt. Between the innings, I'm sweating too much, my hand. I'm putting dirt - I'm grasping the dirt. ... I'm not using pine tar," he said. Not many people are buying that explanation.

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No one would have blamed the Red Sox for being angry that their rival cheated for an advantage, but no complaint was ever lodged with the umpire. "The Red Sox didn't bring it to our attention, so there's nothing we can do about it," umpire crew chief Brian O'Nora said. "If they bring it to our attention, then you've got to do something."

Instead, players up and down the roster insisted they had no problem with Pineda's use of pine tar. "I would rather the guy know where the ball is going and have a good grip, for me, personally," Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "Maybe it’s cheating, but I don’t really look at it that way." David Ortiz agreed as well: "Everybody uses pine tar in the league, it’s not a big deal."

Pineda's sticky hand (AP).

Boston pitcher Chris Capuano went even further, explaining that all pitchers use some substance — including spit, sunscreen, or shaving cream — to help their grip as well. “But in my mind there is a difference between doctoring the ball to make it do something funny, versus to get a grip,” he said. As long as the point is to help hold the ball, cheating with pine tar is a-okay for the Red Sox. 

In fact, the Red Sox have had their own recent problems with pine tar. Last year, Boston pitcher Clay Buccholz was accused of rubbing a grip-improving substance on his forearm, which he dabbed before pitches. 

Boston manager John Farrell was one of the few to criticize Pineda, but only because he deemed the pitcher a failure at hiding the transgression. "Guys look to create a grip, but typically you're not looking to be as blatant [as Pineda]," Farrell said. Next time, Pineda, try to be more subtle.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.