Pitchers have been doctoring baseballs to gain an advantage over hitters for well over 100 years. Some get caught, most don’t.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know people who did it when I played,” said Mustangs manager Dick Schofield, who spent 14 seasons in the major leagues.
Jose Guzman, Schofield’s starter in a 7-5 loss to Misoula on Wednesday, became one of the damned.
Guzman was ejected before the second inning when the umpires found pine tar on his glove. Guzman had given up two hits in a scoreless first, but was forced to make the proverbial walk of shame back to the dugout before throwing a pitch in the second.
Schofield said Missoula manager Audo Vicente tipped off the umpires to Guzman’s impropriety, and the Mustangs dugout was seen exchanging, shall we say, verbal pleasantries with Vicente as relief pitcher Soid Marquez warmed up.
Schofield said he isn’t privy to the protocol for fines or suspensions when a pitcher is caught manipulating the ball in the minor leagues. Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended 10 games by Major League Baseball earlier this season when he was caught with pine tar on his neck.
Mustangs first baseman Brian O’Grady, who was drafted out of Rutgers earlier this month, said he’d never seen a pitcher get caught with pine tar — or anything else.
“I saw it earlier this year with Pineda, but other than that I’ve never really thought about it,” said O’Grady, who walked three times as the designated hitter on Wednesday. “I don’t know if that is just part of the game, but I was kind of oblivious to it.”
Said Schofield: “I have no idea what pitchers put on their hands, their forearm, their neck, their ears or whatever. I don’t want to say it’s rampant, but guys do it everywhere.
“I honestly don’t have a problem with it. If it’s a blatant thing, where a guy knows how to throw a spitball or something and the ball is just dropping off the table, then you say, ‘Hey, timeout.’ But the umpire was right for kicking (Guzman) out of the game.”
Schofield did not believe Guzman’s ejection threw the Mustangs’ pitching plan out of whack. Per his designated pitch count, Guzman was only scheduled to throw one, maybe two more innings. Marquez was scheduled to piggy back off Guzman thereafter.
What lost the game for Billings was dreadful defense (five errors) and the inability to hit with runners in scoring position. The Mustangs had the bases loaded in the second and came up empty, and then failed to score an inning later with runners on second and third with nobody out.
KEY MOMENT: Trailing by two runs in the third, Alex Blandino lined out to third base with two runners in scoring position. Blandino’s rocket, had it gotten past Tyler Humphreys, would have tied the game. It was the professional debut for Blandino, who was a supplemental first-round pick of the Reds out of Stanford earlier this month.
ON THE MOUND: Needless to say, the Mustangs went deep into their bullpen after Guzman’s quick exit and the defense’s inability to make plays. Marquez (1-1) took the loss. Missoula’s Ty Bolton (1-0), making his second start this season, cruised through five innings, allowing four hits while striking out three and walking two.
AT THE PLATE: Billings rallied in the ninth as Jimmy Pickens, Josciel Veras and Nick Benedetto drew leadoff walks. That led to a four-run outburst, but the deficit was too much. Benedetto hit his third professional home run in the seventh inning.
ON DECK: The Mustangs host Missoula in the final game of their two-game series Thursday at 7 p.m. RHP Wyatt Strahan (0-1, 0.00) is expected to oppose Osprey LHP Gabriel Moya (1-0, 6.75).