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Big League Stew

Jose Valverde’s ‘spitball’ clip goes viral, raises more questions than answers

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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Jose Valverde celebrates Sunday's save in Cincinnati. (US Presswire)

It's been awhile since Internet tattletales have taken a screencap or YouTube video and tried to pass it off as proof that a particular pitcher was throwing a spitball. Yeah, there was that whole episode of Angels bloggers vs. Mariano Rivera in the 2009 ALCS, but history's best closer was exonerated pretty quickly. The scene has been quiet since then with Grantland's Jonah Keri detailing the virtual death of the illegal pitch in a column written earlier this year.

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Enter Jose Valverde. The bombastic Detroit Tigers closer is causing plenty of chatter on Monday morning with one particular action drawing suspicions during Sunday's 7-6 win over the  Cincinnati Reds. Holding a 1-2 count against catcher Devin Mesoraco, it sure looked like Valverde licked his lips and hocked a loogie into his glove, where the ball happened to be resting.

An enterprising fan even put the slow-motion breakdown on YouTube — where it will hopefully stay untouched until you can view it — with Dallas Latos, the wife of Reds pitcher Mat Latos, giving it a much larger audience with her Twitter account.

Check it out here:

It's certainly hard to see anything but Valverde getting his spit on — or out, as it were —  in that video. But here's the thing. The pitch that Valverde unleashed and used to strike out Mesoraco was a four-seam fastball that came up and in. Pitchers have traditionally used spit — or even more effective agents like vaseline — to make the ball sink or drop. That wasn't the case here. No, as Alexandra Simon of Detroit Tigers Scorecard notes, it was the complete opposite of what should have happened with spit on the baseball. (Valverde is well known for throwing a split-fingered fastball, which makes you wonder why he passed on throwing that pitch if he did indeed spit on the ball.)

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But let's not let Valverde completely off the hook here. As Dirk Hayhurst says on Twitter, the art of baseball doctoring is still alive and well. If the '90s Atlanta Braves pitching staff dabbled in the practice, it wouldn't be shocking that a closer in 2012 would be doing it. Maybe Valverde was storing the spit in his mitt for a later pitch, like a saliva-obsessed squirrel?

Or maybe he was just simply hiding his actions from the chewing tobacco police?

The mystery wears on ...

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