June 22, 2012
The Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals only hook up periodically due to playing in different leagues. Barring a World Series battle between the two clubs, it will be at least sometime next year, if not longer, before they clash again. The time off between the two may be good: it will give the tempers and discord an opportunity to die down again.
What was a closely contested, competitive series will be remembered more for what happened in the late innings of a game that didn’t involve a play at the plate, a fair or foul call or even a pitch at all. Instead, it was an incident that brought to mind the era of the spitball, Gaylord Perry and his reputation for ball doctoring, Joe Niekro and the emery board he kept in his pocket and even Kenny Rogers with the infamous brown smudge that Kenny Rogers had during the 2006 World Series.
Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta was ejected from Tuesday’s series opener, won by Tampa Bay 5-4, without even throwing a pitch. Peralta came out to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning but before he was working through his warm up tosses, Washington manager Davey Johnson requested that the umpires check Peralta’s glove. What followed led to a war of words between Johnson and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon following the game.
Peralta’s glove was looked at and according to umpire Tim Tschida, who was the crew chief, a “significant amount of pine tar” was found. The umpires carried the glove off the field and Peralta was summarily ejected from the ball game. Peralta tipped his cap toward the Nationals’ dugout following the ejection and was rather unimpressed with the entire incident, as evidenced by his statement following the game.
“Good for them,” Peralta said. “They still lose the game.”
Peralta declined to directly answer the question relating to whether he intentionally put excessive amounts of pine tar on his glove. He avoided answering the question as much as possible. “That’s a glove that I use for batting practice every day,” he said. “I’m every day playing catch with it, it’s hot here — that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Jake McGee took the place of Peralta and pitched the eighth inning for Tampa Bay, with Fernando Rodney coming in to pick up the save. After the game, the war of words between the two managers was far from over. Both had their fair share of sound bites that would come to dominate the highlights shown on “Sportscenter.” Johnson started the exchange with this statement: “If somebody has been known to use a foreign substance on their glove or their hat, a nice hot night is the time to use it, so I asked them to check and obviously he had it. It was a rumor that he liked a little pine tar.”
Maddon retorted with the following tirade about the incident and the Nationals as a whole: “Insider trading, man. It’s bush. It’s bogus. That’s way too easy, right there.” He also went on to call Johnson cowardly for making the request to inspect the glove. The insider trading reference relates to the fact that Peralta pitched for the Nationals in 2010, leading to the implication that one or more of his former Washington teammates tipped off Johnson to look for the pine tar.
It took a couple of days but Major League Baseball came down with its ruling on the incident on Thursday, suspending Peralta for eight games. Peralta immediately appealed and is eligible to pitch until the hearing regarding the incident takes place. He pitched in Thursday’s series finale, allowing a tie breaking two run double to Danny Espinosa to take the loss in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 defeat. He fell to 0-3 with a 4.20 earned run average, two saves and 16 holds on the season.
Peralta said after Thursday’s game that some of his former Nationals teammates met with him prior to Wednesday’s game and expressed their support for him. He seemed convinced that it wasn’t any of them who gave away the information regarding the pine tar in his glove. He was not so glowing about Johnson, saying he didn’t know him and failing to absolve him for what transpired.
“I knew it wasn’t them. I knew when they did it was not coming from the players. That made me feel good. I know they like me. “I don’t know why he (Johnson) did it. I would like to know, but I’m not gonna ask that.”
Maddon felt that the suspension was excessive in its length. “Of course it’s too much, and of course it’s unfair, but that’s the way they came down with it and it’s gonna be up to them to try and manipulate it.” It should be noted that Maddon didn’t deny that Peralta used pine tar and stated that it was a common occurrence in baseball. “Joel is using pine tar and had pine tar in his glove. I’m saying to suggest he’s the only one that’s doing it is inappropriate.”
Johnson was involved in a similar incident when he managed the New York Mets. In the 1988 National League Championship Series, Johnson requested that the umpires check the glove of Dodgers reliever Jay Howell. He was found to have had pine tar on his glove and was suspended three games, though it was later reduced to a single game on appeal.
Maddon was given the opportunity by Tschida to check a Nationals player prior to the top of the ninth inning after the Peralta ejection. Maddon took the opportunity to check on Washington reliever Ryan Mattheus but there was nothing illegal found.
The incident overshadowed tremendous pitching by both sides in the final two games of the series, with Stephen Strasburg outdueling rookie Chris Archer in the second game of the series despite the Nationals not getting a hit after the opening inning. Gio Gonzalez threw six strong innings to pick up his ninth win of the season in the finale Thursday, while Matt Moore struggled with his command but left Tampa Bay in position to win when he departed after five frames.
It’s unclear as to when the hearing will be held regarding Peralta and how Maddon will work his bullpen in accordance with the suspension. It’s expected that a combination of McGee, Burke Badenhop and Wade Davis will fill the role of the setup man for Rodney, who has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and is second in the American League in that category so far this season.
The Nationals close out their portion of the interleague schedule this weekend with a season against the equally surprising Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, while the Rays lock up with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.