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PineGate no smear on Pineda's game

NEW YORK -- When the next chapter of the Yankees-Red Sox saga is written, what happened Thursday night at Yankee Stadium will go down as just another amusing but inconsequential chapter in the raucous history of these two teams, like Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer rolling around in the dirt or a whole section of fans in Fenway Park taunting Alex Rodriguez with cardboard Cinderella cutouts the night after he was photographed with a Mystery Blonde.

The whole question of whether the Sox were beaten by Michael Pineda or "PINE-da" is a moot point, because if a pitcher is throwing tar balls and no one complains about it, did it really happen?

If anything, the Red Sox better hope Pineda was using pine tar on the baseball Thursday, as speculated by some TV commentators after their cameras caught what appeared to be a wet, shiny substance on the palm of his pitching hand in the third inning.

Because if he wasn't -- meaning his ball was moving in ways that made their hitters look foolish without any artificial help -- then Boston has one more thing to worry about this season, one in which the club will meet the Yankees 18 more times.

That would mean Pineda really was as good as he looked Thursday, and frankly, he looked like the kind of pitcher a club would trade away its best prospect for, as the Yankees did two years ago.

First, let's get to PineGate, a non-issue created by a hometown TV broadcast that really went no further because the Red Sox lodged no complaint with the umpires, no action was taken against Pineda, and not one voice in the visitors clubhouse was raised in objection to how Pineda went about his work. Manager John Farrell, David Ortiz and pitcher Chris Capuano all said variations of the same thing: Everybody's doing it. So what?

And obviously, everyone recalls the mysterious green goo that appeared in Jon Lester's glove during Game 1 of last year's World Series. If some TV types want to get their knickers in a knot over it, fine. But the participants in the game, most notably the ones victimized by Pineda's dominance, didn't think it was a big deal, so therefore it's not.

Marchand: Does the pine tar incident detract from Pineda's performance?

Play DownloadIn fact, the only voice that raised a true red flag of suspicion over what was or was not on Pineda's hand was his own manager, Joe Girardi, whom I would advise you never to commit a crime with. Because his apparent inability to tell a lie was more incriminating than anything that happened on the field.

Here is a verbatim transcript of Girardi's answers to questions regarding the "substance" on Pineda's hand:

Q: It seemed in the third inning, there was some type of substance on Pineda's wrist area, then in the fifth it wasn't there. Did you see anything?

"There is really not much for me to speak on concerning that," Girardi said. "All I know is he pitched extremely well and we are glad to have him back."

Q: Joe, your answer on the apparent substance on Pineda's hand needs some clarification, does that mean ... you didn't see it?

"I never saw it," Girardi said. "There is nothing really for me to talk about."

Q: Joe, with all due respect, you want to say, for the record, that you didn't have any idea he had this thing on his hand. And you were not notified during this game about it?

"What I said is I didn't see it on his hand is what I said," Girardi said. "No. 2, I don't really have anything to say about it."

Q: I assume, if he had nothing on his hand and he was pitching completely legal tonight you would probably tell us, right?

"I really don't have much to say," Girardi said. "He pitched great tonight and we are glad to have him."

Q: Do you think this controversy will take away from Pineda's performance?

"Not in our clubhouse, it won't," Girardi said. "Those are the people you see every day. You hear every day. You have to be with every day. That's the important thing."

Q: Were you notified during the game that this was out there?

"I really don't have anything to say on the subject, except he pitched great and we are glad to have him."

Of course, a simple "I didn't see anything" would have sufficed. Girardi instead chose to go, as my colleague Andrew Marchand suggested, all Mark McGwire on us, essentially taking the fifth amendment when the first amendment would have worked even better.

But it really didn't matter. Yes, there probably was something on Pineda's hand that would qualify as a "foreign substance" if anyone wanted to invoke Rule 8.02, paragraph 4 to its letter, which clearly no one did.

In that event, we must take Pineda's performance at face value, and in doing so we add a major player to the Yankees' 2014 roster -- even if he so far is just a minor character in Yankees-Red Sox lore.

In his first Yankee Stadium appearance, in what is reputed to be the hottest rivalry in sports, Pineda cooled down the Red Sox bats with six dominant innings, using a fastball that topped out at 96 mph and a slider that locked up both righties and lefties alike. He held the Red Sox hitless for four innings and scoreless for six, until Daniel Nava led off the seventh with a home run that accounted for Boston's only notch on the board in a 4-1 loss.

When Pineda allowed the next hitter, Xander Bogaerts, to single to center, Girardi, mindful that Pineda was still technically recovering from major surgery to repair a torn labrum, pulled him in favor of Cesar Cabral for two batters, and David Phelps for the final 2⅔ innings and a save.

In two starts now, Pineda has struck out 12 batters and walked only two in 12 innings, and his ERA is a tidy 1.50. His career WHIP is a 1.09, which coincidentally is the same as it was in his 2011 season, when he made the AL All-Star team as a rookie Seattle Mariner and prompted the Yankees to part with Jesus Montero, who to that point they had been touting as the second coming of Bill Dickey.

Now, Montero is a washout for the Mariners but Pineda, in the second act of a still young career, looks like the kind of pitcher a team can dream on.

That is bad news for the rest of the American League and especially for the Red Sox, who by their own admission were beaten Thursday night fairly, squarely, and, perhaps most alarmingly, cleanly.