"I would expect that if it’s used, it’s more discreet than the last time."
That's what Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters prior to Wednesday night's 5-1 victory over the New York Yankees when asked about the suspicions that Michael Pineda had used pine tar to doctor the ball during his last start against the team.
It was a fair assumption on Farrell's part, but it could not have been further from the truth, as Pineda brazenly took the mound in the second inning with what was very obviously pine tar on his neck.
This time around, it earned him an early trip to the showers and will likely net him a suspension as well. In the process, it raised a number of questions about the player and the organization involved.
Pineda pitched great during the original start in question, going six innings and allowing just four hits and one run while striking out seven and picking up his first win of the season in the process.
Asked after the game whether he was using pine tar, Pineda claimed that it was simply dirt on this hands. "I don't use pine tar," he told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "It's dirt. I'm sweating on my hand too much in-between innings."
Whether or not that was the case (it wasn't), it certainly wasn't dirt that was smeared all over the 25-year-old's neck when he took the hill in the bottom of the second inning on Wednesday.
After getting roughed up a bit in the first inning, allowing four hits and two runs, Pineda looked noticeably sharper to kick off the second. After getting a quick first two outs, Farrell asked the home plate umpire to check Pineda, and he was ejected when the pine tar on his neck was discovered.
In a dugout full of coaches, you would think that someone had to have seen Pineda applying the pine tar. For a Yankees team thin on pitching, risking ejection and suspension by not stopping him was an incredibly stupid move.
He already had a target on his back and was being watched more closely than the average pitcher after the controversy surrounding his last start. Really, there was no chance of him not being caught from the way he went about it.
However, given the suspicions leading up to the game and the not-so-subtle way that Pineda went about it, there's a very good chance he'll be looking at 10 games.
That would mean he misses two starts, and for a Yankees team that just recently lost Ivan Nova to a partially torn UCL, that is a huge blow.
With the team's decision to use Adam Warren, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno out of the bullpen to start the year, none of the team's next three starters in line are currently stretched out to start. That leaves their rotation as a major question mark for the next week-and-a-half or so at the very least.
In a tight AL East race, and with everyone looking to build some early season momentum, a few rough starts that wind up taxing the bullpen can do an awful lot of damage.
Which again brings us back to the question: What was Pineda and, more importantly, what were the Yankees thinking here?
It certainly wasn't a matter of "oops you caught me" on Pineda's part, as he seemed to be flaunting the fact that he was cheating, and it showed a complete lack of respect for the rival Red Sox in the process.
Could this have been a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Pineda and the Yankees?
The Red Sox spent several days after the original incident downplaying the significance of whether or not Pineda used pine tar, and this forced them to go back on that.
“Everybody uses pine tar in the league,” David Ortiz told Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger after the original incident. “It’s not a big deal.”
“I mean, I have pine tar on my bat," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, downplaying its significance as well. "That's a non-issue.”
Turns out it was in fact an issue, and while it seems unlikely that the Yankees blatantly risked Pineda being suspended just to show up their rivals, that's exactly what they wound up doing.
If nothing else, this certainly makes for an interesting story to follow. With the two teams scheduled to square off for 12 more games after this current series wraps up, there's a very good chance this won't be the last time Pineda takes the mound against Boston.
Count this as just one more thread in the rich tapestry that is the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, as you really never know what's going to happen when these two teams square off.