When the visiting clubhouse opened Monday night, Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda stood in the middle of the room, still wearing his game pants despite having been ejected from his start against the Red Sox almost three hours earlier, and wearing a look of contrition on his face.
“I say sorry everybody,” said the 25-year-old native of the Dominican Republic. “I’m here, and I know I made a mistake, so I feel so sad today.”
Pineda was thrown out of New York’s 5-1 loss to Boston after Red Sox manager John Farrell was alerted to what appeared to be a foreign substance on the pitcher’s neck, near his right ear, in the bottom of the second inning. Farrell brought it to the attention of home plate umpire Gerry Davis, who went to the mound and saw the source of the appeal, which was sticky when Davis touched it.
After the game Pineda confirmed Davis’s belief that it was indeed pine tar, saying that he’d had trouble gripping the ball on a windy, 53-degree night at Fenway Park, so after yielding a couple of runs in the first inning he applied it to his skin prior to taking the bump again in the second.
“In the first inning I no feel the ball, and I don’t want to hit anybody,” Pineda said, speaking in English, without a translator.
Pineda said he put the pine tar on his skin by himself, without talking to anyone else about it. But Yankee manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman both said there were conversations between the club and the pitcher after television cameras showed what appeared to be pine tar on Pineda’s right hand during a start against the Red Sox earlier this month.
At that time, Major League Baseball contacted the Yankees to discuss a potential violation of the rule prohibiting hurlers from doctoring the ball. And so Cashman, in particular, expressed disappointment that the club had so quickly allowed the matter to become an issue again.
“I think we’re all embarrassed. We as a group are embarrassed that this has taken place,” the GM said. “We are all responsible. He did what he did, but we are all responsible because somehow he got out of that dugout and was on the field in that manner. We’re all responsible for that situation. Don’t misunderstand that – that we were part of putting something on, or stuff like that -- but clearly we all have ownership. That never should’ve happened.”
Cashman was sitting in the stands Wednesday night when he got a call from someone who was watching the telecast and could see the substance on Pineda’s neck. Cashman got up from his seat, and went to the clubhouse, but by the time he got there it was too late to do anything about it.
Girardi said he couldn’t see the substance from the dugout, but had an idea of what Davis was going to check at the mound after Farrell made his request. After the game the manager said he never saw the substance on Pineda – while admitting “I didn’t look at Michael” – but the manager hardly protested once Davis signaled the ejection.
“He did not have it on when the game started, and I guess, from what I understand, he had a hard time gripping the ball and rubbed it on in the second inning,” Girardi said. “Obviously that’s a problem. We’re going to have to deal with the consequences, and Michael’s going to have to deal with it, but we’ll get through it.”
Girardi said he wasn’t mad at Pineda. “The kid’s doing the best he can. He’s trying to compete, and that’s what he’s trying to do. I don’t think he’s trying to get an edge on anyone,” the manager said, noting how hard Pineda has worked to return after missing the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to injury.
Until Wednesday that return was going well, as Pineda brought a 1.00 earned run average with him to Boston – but now he faces a suspension that is likely to last at least eight games (based on precedent), and he faces more conversations with Yankee brass about his decision.
“That’s what we do. We don’t ignore situations – we handle situations,” Girardi said. “It’s something Michael chose to do after the first inning. He had a hard time gripping the baseball. The conditions are not conducive to gripping a baseball. And unknown to us he put it on and went out.”
The application was so blatant that neither Girardi nor Cashman begrudged the Red Sox for bringing the issue to the umpires’ attention. When asked if he was surprised that Farrell did so, Girardi answered, “If it’s that obvious, with all the attention, I don’t think so.” Then when he was asked if Pineda left Farrell with no choice but to appeal, the manager said, “That’s probably fair to say.”
And his GM agreed.
“Listen, I would want my manager to do what John Farrell did. I would want, on behalf of our fan base, our team, to do the same thing that they did,” Cashman said. “Obviously this is a terrible situation that we all witnessed, and we’re all a part of, and we all have ownership to because, honestly, there’s clearly a failure and a breakdown that he wound up walking out of that dugout with something like that. It’s just not a good situation.”
Cashman said Pineda’s actions “clearly forced the opponents’ hand to do something that I’m sure they didn’t want to do, but they felt like they had no choice but to,” and that his club will deal with the ramifications for that. Part of that will be Pineda apologizing to his teammates, which the pitcher says he’s already done. Part of that will be the suspension Cashman expects will be coming.
And part of is helping Pineda to move on – which will include him trying to prove he can pitch effectively without the aid of pine tar. Or at least with its aid coming more inconspicuously.
“He feels bad,” Girardi said. “He feels like he let his teammates down. But I said, ‘Michael, hey, this is a little bump. We’ll get through this. We’ll find a way to get through this and you’ll be back pitching before you know it.’ ”
“I apologize to my teammates and everybody,” Pineda said. “I’ll learn from this mistake, and it no happen again.”
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Upon returning to the dugout after Pineda’s ejection, Girardi could be seen with his hands on the camera ESPN had stationed at the edge of the visitors’ dugout. The Yankee manager clarified afterward that his issue was with the remotely operated device trying to peek down the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse, which he understands to be off-limits.
“What frustrated me is the camera is meant for the dugout, not for the tunnel,” he said. “Michael was out of the game already, and I don’t want it down in our tunnel. That’s our private area. It has been clearly stated that that is for the dugout, not for the tunnel and conversations that happen between coaches and players. That was my beef.
“If I was really going to tear up the camera, I would’ve tore it up, but I was just trying to get it from being in the tunnel.”
Girardi said he did not expect to be disciplined for putting his hands on the equipment, and that if he were fined he’d have a big problem with that decision.