Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating

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I get into a lot of baseball arguments which end up with people telling me how damn clear the rules and morals are and how I’m a jerk for not understanding that. How breaking the rules is cheating, cheating is wrong and cheaters are bad people. How defending the cheaters is an exercise in amoral or even immoral excuse-making. Rules are rules, and if I can’t understand that well, God help me.

Then Michael Pineda is caught twice using pine tar, and apparently nuance is the order of the day. “His crime wasn’t cheating, so much,” the consensus holds. “Everyone uses a little something to help them get a grip on the ball. His crime was being so obvious about it. It’d be just fine if he used pine tar in a manner that didn’t make a mockery of the situation.”

MORE: Yankees’ Pineda caught with pine tar, faces suspension

Imagine if we applied that standard to other forms of cheating. Most players who use PEDs claim with a straight face that they do so for totally legitimate reasons, separate and apart from gaining an advantage on the competition. Now, picture a guy getting busted for HGH and being met with the same sort of response the Pineda thing is getting: “Hey, a lot of guys use this stuff because they just wanna get off the disabled list more quickly, and if you do it we’re not going to care all that much. But you can’t go getting caught by George Mitchell, dummy. Jeez, what an idiot.”

I don’t feel like that dynamic would fly too well. So forgive me if I don’t think the conventional wisdom forming around the pine tar issue this morning is all that great.

Specifically, I don’t understand why, after a decade’s worth of hand-wringing over the moral depravity of rule-breakers, people are accepting of a situation where breaking the rules is totally fine as long as no one is being obvious about it and no one is doing things to cause it to make big, controversial news. This was baseball’s original m.o. regarding PEDs, after all. Steroid use was widely known and acknowledged as something that was happening and something that was wrong, but it only became a big issue once Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti decided to start talking about it in 2002. That approach has been soundly rejected as shameful and willful blindness on baseball’s part, and everything that has happened with PEDs since then has been a reaction to it or correction of it.

VIDEO: Farrell on Pineda | Yankees embarrassed

Yet, here we are again. When it comes to pine tar or other foreign substances used by pitchers, baseball seems content to look the other way until someone as indiscreet as Pineda literally forces them to acknowledge it. And fans and commentators, it seems, are content to go along with that. To mock and punish the guys who openly flaunt the rules, while not thinking too terribly hard about the rules or their inconsistent application in the first place.

How nice it would be if, this time, baseball actually looked at the issue at hand in a mature and non-reactionary way and determined whether, if rules are being broken, why they are being broken and whether the rule in question should actually exist in the first place.  To ask if what everyone says is true and pitchers legitimately need pine tar or sunscreen to get a grip on the ball. To determine if doing so is not objectionable, whether maybe it’s a good idea to legalize pine tar or sunscreen or whatever is being used. To put a big tub of it on the mound for the pitchers to use. Or at the very least to examine pitcher grip in an intelligent way and decide which substances are OK and which substances aren’t. People claim this is a matter of batter safety. If so, let’s make baseball put its money where its mouth is rather than just stigmatize people and go after the low-hanging fruit like Michael Pineda or any of the guys named in the Mitchell Report.

If, however, that angle is oversold and, in reality, pitchers use this stuff to get an advantage over hitters — and if people’s usual willingness to look the other way on this is a function of not wanting their cheating pitchers to lose their advantage — let’s not pretend that how obvious someone is about their cheating is the real issue here and actually start enforcing a clear rule which has been on the books for far longer any rules about PEDs have been.

I don’t expect either of those things to happen, of course. Rather, I expect that people will be content to laugh at Michael Pineda and criticize him for being obvious. For lecturing anyone who questions those who would mock Pineda about the unwritten rules of cheating in baseball and how, if they don’t get that, they obviously haven’t played the game before and don’t understand baseball’s rich and colorful history.

Then, the next time someone recovering from a torn ligament get busted for taking HGH, I expect us to be back in the land of heroes and villains, moral certainty and the deficient character of those who would cheat. Because the only consistent thing there is when it comes to baseball and cheating is its considerable inconsistency.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 1: Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings and the pen blanked the Nats in the seventh, but Washington clung to only a 1-0 lead thanks to an almost-as-good start from Jacob deGrom. In the eighth, Dave Martinez called on Kyle Barraclough to hold things down. He got two out but also put two runners on, so Martinez called on Sean Doolittle to get a four-out save in a tight game. Tough order, but Doolittle’s good. Usually.

Doolittle hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, gave up a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares, intentionally walked a guy and then gave up a three-run jack to Rajai Davis. The best part: Davis was just called up the Mets mere hours before. Hell, he had already taken batting practice for Syracuse, who was playing at Lehigh Valley. He took an Uber to New York, got there by the third inning, got lost and was finally suited up not long before entering the game as a pinch hitter.

As I wrote once upon a time, an essential part of living life is dealing with stuff when you’re basically unprepared. When you’re just thrown into a situation for which you didn’t have time or opportunity to gear up. Here’s a salute to Rajai Davis, who may not have been prepared to face a big league pitcher in a big league stadium when he woke up yesterday morning but who rose to the occasion because, really, what else can you do?

Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cole Hamels took on the Phillies for the first time but, more importantly, he took on Cole Irvin in what I’m going to assume was a “Highlander” situation. Hamels didn’t pitch that well or get the win but he did a lot better than Irvin, so I assume Irvin’s head was cut off. There can only be one. Albert Almora Jr. hit a grand slam. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run bomb to help the Cubs get out of an early hole. Let’s call it a Cole hole.

[Ed. — Let’s not]

White Sox 9, Astros 4: Not a great night for Coles. The White Sox beat up on Cole, Gerrit for six runs on seven hits. Eloy Jiménez hit two homers in this one and the Chisox even turned a triple play. A good one, too! Around-the-horn, bang-bang-bang, not one of those janky “baserunner screwed up and stood in the baseline as a guy caught a pop fly, stepped on the bag, and tagged out the confused runner” things. Watch:

Brewers 11, Reds 9: Zach Davies, with a 1.54 ERA, faced off against Luis Castillo, owner of a 1.90 ERA. So naturally 20 runs were scored. The Reds led 6-1 and blew it, then led 8-6 and blew it before the Brewers pulled away. The 8-6 lead went away when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer to tie it. He also started a double play when, with the bases loaded, a strikeout pitch got past him but ricocheted right back to him. The guy on first took off but no one else did because they saw the ricochet. Grandal threw down to first to retire the struck out batter then the Brewers got the baserunner out in a rundown. Just how they drew it up.

Yankees 7, Orioles 5: The Bombers hit five more homers against an Orioles pitching staff that is going to do some ghastly things to the record books before this season is out. Thairo Estrada, D.J. LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres went deep in the first three innings go give New York a 5-0 lead. Gary Sánchez homered in the fourth to make it 6-1 and Torres homered again in the fifth to make it 7-2. Sánchez has homered in three straight games. Torres has 12 homers on the year. Ten of them have come against the Orioles.

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5: This thirteen-inning game ended twenty minutes before midnight. Today they get started at 12:37PM. Look for some super crisp play from the Sox and Jays today! Here Michael Chavis hit a tiebreaking homer in the 13th inning to give Boston the win. Rafael Devers homered earlier for his third blast in as many games. That gave Boston a lead that Marcus Walden could not hold thanks to a ninth inning rally from Toronto that made everyone stay up late. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel was, I imagine, tucked into bed back wherever he calls home and will be a fresh as a daisy this morning.

Athletics 7, Indians 2: Jefry Rodríguez didn’t fool A’s batters, who touched him for five runs in four innings while Frankie Montas blanked the tribe for six while striking out nine. Mark Canha homered and drove in three and Nick Hundley on a three-hit day as the A’s won their sixth game in a row and took their 10th of 14 overall.

Royals 8, Cardinals 2; Cardinals 10, Royals 3: New rule idea: when teams split a doubleheader the team which outscores the other in the aggregate gets some sort of bonus in the standings. So, here, since the Cards “beat” the Royals 12-11, each team gets one win and the Cards get, um, a point on top. Wait, that would require some sort of hockey-style points system too. OK, we can work with that. It might require some more changes. Like, when you lose a getaway day game in under two and a half hours, you lose a point as a “phoning it in tax.” There are all kinds of variations we can come up with here. Let’s blow this dang game up!

Oh, here: Brad Keller tossed two-hit, two-run baseball and the Royals — boosted by a Jorge Soler three-run homer — beat up on Michael Wacha in the first game. In the second game Homer Bailey got shelled, failing to make it out of the second inning, while Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Kolton Wong all went deep. Adam Wainwright was shaky but John GantAndrew MillerCarlos Martinez and John Brebbia combined for four innings of scoreless relief to disabuse Kansas City of any notions of a comeback.

Rockies 9, Pirates 3: For the second time in a couple of weeks Josh Bell hit a homer into the Allegheny River on the fly. That was nice but, at least until my points-system rules changes come into effect which would provide Bell a “cool factor” bonus, it was just a solo shot. Meanwhile, Rockies batters Daniel Murphy and Tony Wolters each hit three-run homers in the early going. Rockies starter Jon Gray allowed three runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings. One of those strikeouts was of Bell, on three pitches no less, in his next plate appearance after the splash homer. That would take a half point away, by the way.

Rangers 2, Mariners 1: The sweep. And the seventh win in eight games for Texas. Hunter Pence homered. Seattle is now in last place where most people expected them to be. That opening series in Japan seems like a thousand years ago.

Padres 5, Diamondbacks 2: Eric Lauer allowed one run on four hits over seven frames Eric Hosmer drove in a couple. Kirby Yates got his 20th save of the year. That’s a 65-save pace for a team that’s just above .500.

Rays 8, Dodgers 1: A couple of solo homers had this one tied at one entering the bottom of the seventh, with Dylan Floro taking over for the Dodgers to start the inning. He hit a guy, gave up two straight singles, then a homer and just like that L.A. was down 5-1. The homer — a three-run shot — came from Avisail García and chased Floro. Caleb Ferguson then came in, walked a guy, struck out two, then hit a guy and surrendered a three-run bomb to Kevin Kiermaier. Not what you want out of your bullpen.

Marlins 6, Tigers 3: The Marlins were down 3-0 entering the sixth before coming back. Brian Anderson hit a two-run shot for Miami, Neil Walker doubled in a couple and Garrett Cooper hit his first career homer to power the comeback. That’s five straight wins for the Fish. Eight straight losses for the Tigers, whose early season friskiness has long since passed.

Braves 9, Giants 2: Jeff Samardzija allowed six unearned runs but, as we said the other day, not all unearned runs are created equally. He put a couple of guys on and the would-be out number three of the inning was postponed due to an error, but before it was finally recorded he gave up a run on a wild pitch and coughed up homers to Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman. So, yeah, take that “unearned” stuff with a grain of salt. The Giants couldn’t do much against Max Fried, who allowed two over six, and nothing against the Atlanta pen which tossed two shutout innings.

Twins vs. Angels — POSTPONED:

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Oh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours