Clay Buchholz

Will Smith

Will Smith’s ejection once again shows baseball’s silly approach to foreign substance rules


Last night Will Smith was ejected from the Brewers-Braves game because he had a big bunch of goo on his arm. Hey, big bunches of goo on your arm is illegal if you’re a pitcher, so do the crime, do the time. He may get a ten-game suspension out of this. He may not. We’ll see in the next day or so.

But before anyone tut-tuts the evil, cheating Will Smith here, let us remind ourselves that just about every pitcher uses something to mess with baseballs and/or enhance their grip, and for the most part baseball is content to look the other way about it.

We went through this last year when Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck and hand in multiple starts and two years ago when Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was accused of using sunscreen to doctor baseballs. Or to get a better grip. Or a less-good grip which some argued was better (too much friction is bad!). It’s hard to keep track of these justifications, actually. The one thing we do know for sure, though, is that a huge number of pitchers do this and, generally speaking, no one cares. Hitters have said they don’t mind if it means the pitcher has better control over the ball. The people who pointed out the use of foreign substances in these instances actually got more crap thrown their way than the actual foreign substance users.

But it’s not totally kosher, right? If it was, would Michael Pineda have gotten suspended? If it was, would Fredi Gonzalez have gone out to the umps last night and told them about Smith’s goo? Hardly. Heck, right before the ejection Smith hit a Braves batter with a pitch. Perhaps Smith, therefore, wasn’t really interested in getting a better grip with whatever that goo was? Perhaps Gonzalez was merely suggesting to the umps that they tell Smith to put more goo on his arm and the message was just garbled? English is such an imperfect language for communicating nuance!

That’s the key word here, of course. “Nuance.” Ultimately these situations come down to someone arguing about how it’s totally cool for the pitcher to doctor up the ball, but maybe they shouldn’t be so obvious about it. It’s a standard that, for whatever reason, never ever flies with any other kind of rules violations in baseball. Imagine if it did. “Hey, he may have been taking HGH, but he was doing it to recover from an injury faster, not to get an unfair advantage! Everyone does it, he just took a substance that was too easily-detected. He just shouldn’t have been so obvious about it!” I can tell you from experience, that kind of nuance DOES NOT get you a lot of converts to your cause.

Generally I’m not a fan of  “rules are rules” arguments. I think you have to enforce rules when you have them so, for that reason, I have no problem with Will Smith being ejected for his goo and Joe Shlabotnik being suspended 80 games for whatever PEDs are found in his system, even if he says he took them so he can recover from injury more quickly. But it you have rules which everyone ignores for what everyone argues are good reasons, perhaps you need to examine those rules and reassess whether they reflect reality rather than to only enforce them when someone really obviously breaks them. Because if you do the latter, you’re not policing behavior, you’re playing P.R. games.

Alternatively, maybe we should just acknowledge that a lot of people lie about why they break a rule, acknowledge that non-enforcement tends to boil down to an “our guys do it too, so shut up about it” rationale and stamp out this “hey, everyone does it” talk before people start believing it. I’m good either way.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Michael Pineda

Yankees 6, Orioles 2: Michael Pineda struck out 16 Orioles batters and didn’t walk a one while allowing one run over seven innings. On the season he’s 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA, and 54/3 K/BB ratio in 46 and a third innings. That’s right: he has walked only three batters while striking out over a batter per inning. Yankees win the Jesus Montero trade?

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 3: This is more like how it’s supposed to go: Clay Buchholz pitchers well and Pablo Sandoval homers as the Sox win. Of course this is just the second time the Sox have won in seven of nine and it’s the first time Buchholz has won in six starts. The Red Sox had a clubhouse meeting on Saturday following a bunch of bad play. After the game John Farrell credited the meeting with yesterday’s results, saying “we went out and put together and very good game.” Research project for someone with more time than I have: go back and find every reference to a team having a closed-door meeting in the middle of the season in game stories and then track their collective records over the next 5-10 games and then for the rest of the season. I bet you find, shockingly, that they sort of don’t matter and that bad teams are just bad teams and talent wins and loses more ballgames then motivational meetings. In this way it’s just like your office.

Indians 8, Twins 2: Danny Salazar gave up a leadoff homer to Brian Dozier and then proceeded to retire every single other batter he faced for the next seven innings, striking out 11 of them. I guess that home run . . . motivated him?

Rangers 2, Rays 1: Between his last start and this start Wandy Rodriguez retired 35 straight batters. That’s a perfect game plus eight. We don’t give him credit for that, though, because of the tyranny of the calendar and people’s hangups about arbitrary end-points. You should all really open your minds, man, and throw off the shackles society is making you wear. Or, really man, shackles that you’re putting on yourself. If these comments interest you, I gave a TED-talk on this matter and you can see the video of it here.

Nationals 5, Braves 4: A week into the season the Braves were playing well and the Nationals were not. That dynamic has clearly and definitively reversed itself. Here’s a video representation of the NL East standings.

Agent Smith is the Nationals, obvs, except in our example there are not two horrifyingly bad sequels. There’s just one in which Agent Smith — the far more interesting character played by a far better actor — kicks Neo’s butt pretty soundly and everyone gets to continue living in The Matrix which, you must admit, is way better than that post-apocalyptic hellhole Zion. Reality is overrated.

White Sox 4, Reds 3: The Sox blew a lead in the top of the ninth, allowing the Reds to tie. Then they had to face Aroldis Chapman in the bottom half. Not a great set of circumstances, and the circumstances seemed even more dire as Chapman got two quick outs to start the inning. But then he gave up two straight singles, uncorked a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position. Gordon Beckham then came to the plate and hit a walkoff single. And the best part of this? After the game, Beckham revealed that his mom’s name is “Sully.” That’s gotta be the first “Sully” who isn’t, right now, sitting on a barstool in Massachusetts someplace, explaining away “Deflategate” as a conspiracy against the Patriots because everyone’s jealous of their success.

Mets 7, Phillies 4: Forty-two is the new twenty-seven: Bartolo Colon becomes the majors’ first six game winner this year. He wasn’t necessarily sharp — he gave up a homer to Chad Billingsley for cryin’ out loud — but there’s a lot of margin for error when it comes to facing the Phillies. Also helping: no walks. Indeed, Colon hasn’t walked a batter in over 40 innings.

Pirates 4, Cardinals 3: Jung Ho Kang went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. People wondered if his potent KBL bat would translate in the big leagues. So far so good: .333/.377/.521 in part time play. Mike Matheny described the Cardinals’ day: “Just one of those days we had to try and get what we could. Gave up a few, got `em back, then just couldn’t hold them in the end.” Along with “they whupped our butts,” “everything was workin’ for us” and “we’re happy to have gotten out of there with a win; that’s a good team over there,” that is the exhaustive list of managerial executive game summaries.

Brewers 3, Cubs 2: Martin Maldonado hit a walkoff single in the 11th. Earlier he hit a homer. No word on whether his mom’s name is Sully. Or whatever the Puerto Rican equivalent of Sully is. There probably is. Every region and land has their version of Sully, even if they don’t get the press Sully gets.

Angels 3, Astros 1: Garret Richards was dialing up the heat, hitting his spots and taking a no-hitter into the seventh. He walked some dudes and hit a guy to force in the Astros’ only run, but he struck out ten and looked an awful lot like the guy who led the Angels’ staff until he got hurt at the end of last August.

Giants 3, Marlins 2: Down by one in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants rallied with a single, a double a couple of walks — on intentional, which loaded the bases, the second unintentional to walk in a run — and then Matt Duffy ended it by singling in Gregor Blanco to win the game for San Francisco. The Giants end their homestand having won seven of ten and pull even at .500 on the season. They have 16 wins. Four of them have been walkoffs.

Mariners 4, Athletics 3: Felix Hernandez notched his 2,000th career strikeout. And he just turned 29. Only three guys have gotten to 2,000 Ks at a younger age: Bert Blyleven, Sam McDowell and Walter Johnson. Good company. Hernandez allowed only two runs over seven innings and is now 6-0 on the year with a 1.85 ERA.

Dodgers 9, Rockies 5: They had to clear four inches of snow from Coors Field before the game and the gametime temperature was 41 degrees. It dropped to 39 degrees in the ninth. I have some friends in Denver and they say it’s a lovely place to live, but I feel like the volatile snow-sun-rain-snow-frogs nature of their weather would drive me insane. Adrian Gonzalez hit two doubles and drove in four and the rest of the Dodgers’ offense clicked nicely. Which was good because Clayton Kershaw was once again rather meh. He hasn’t pitched terribly this year, but he certainly hasn’t looked like himself. He stands at 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA. Opponents have a .357 average against him on balls in play. For his career: .274. Things will even out for him, one has to assume.

Diamondbacks 2, Padres 1: Daniel Hudson made his first start since 2012. He didn’t pitch long enough to qualify for the win — he’s not stretched out for that and this was a bullpen game anyway — but he was effective. Nice to see a two-time TJ patient turn things around like Hudson has. Aaron Hill and A.J. Pollock homered.

Royals 2, Tigers 1: The Royals prevailed in the tenth after the game was delayed over an hour and a half in the ninth due to rain. Teams already hate playing Sunday night games because of next-day travel — the Royals are on their way to Texas and probably just got to their hotel rooms in the last hour or so — so I’m sure this one was annoying for all involved. I watched for a few innings. It was annoying to me too, as Curt Schilling and John Kruk are damn nigh unlistenable in the booth. Which is a shame because Dan Shulman is fantastic. ESPN really, really needs to let him fly solo. It’d be so much better.

Red Sox hire Carl Willis as new pitching coach

Carl Willis Mariners

Two days after firing pitching coach Juan Nieves the Red Sox have decided on a replacement, hiring 54-year-old Carl Willis away from the Indians organization.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports that Willis will join the team today, leaving his position as Triple-A pitching coach for the Indians after the Red Sox received permission to interview him.

Willis has been a big-league pitching coach for the Indians and the Mariners, and has experience working with Red Sox manager John Farrell from their time together in Cleveland’s farm system. CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Felix Hernandez all won Cy Young awards with Willis as their pitching coach, for whatever that’s worth.

Willis replaces Nieves, who won the World Series in his first season on the job in 2013 and was fired in his third season on the job thanks to Red Sox pitchers having the worst ERA in the league. Willis’ biggest challenge will be turning around a rotation that lacks No. 1/No. 2 starters and currently features ugly ERAs across the board from Rick Porcello (4.38), Justin Masterson (5.18), Joe Kelly (5.72), Clay Buchholz (6.03), and Wade Miley (6.91).