The Red Sox had already been through this once before with New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda. Surely it couldn't be happening again.
But, undeniably, it was. Right there, on the right side of the pitcher's neck, was another hunk of pine tar, the same foreign substance Pineda seemed to have caked on his right hand when he beat the Red Sox on April 10 in New York.
In the second inning, John Farrell called time and walked to home plate to report his suspicion to home plate umpire Gerry Davis.
Sure enough, after Davis went to the mound and checked the ball and Pineda's neck, the umpire discovered the pine tar and ejected Pineda from the game.
"In the second inning,'' said Farrell, "it looked from the dugout that there was a substance on his neck. You could see it, I could see it from the dugout. It was confirmed by a number of camera angles and given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was (necessary) to say something.
"I fully respect, on a cold night, you're trying to get a little bit of a grip...but when it's that obvious, something has got to be said.''
Before the game, when Farrell was asked about expectations with Pineda, he answered that he hoped the pitcher would be, if nothing else, more discreet this time around.
"Our awareness was heightened,'' said Farrell, "given what we've seen in the past and it was confirmed today.''
The Sox didn't see anything on Pineda in the first inning, when he gave up four hits and two runs. When he returned for the second, it was clearly on his neck.
John Lackey, the Red Sox starter, stayed mostly clear of the controversy but noted: "I guess considering his last start against us, it was probably a little blatant.''
"I think grip is very important,'' said pitching coach Juan Nieves, "because it's cold. But you cannot be that blatant about it.''
Farrell knew that by calling the umpires' attention to the issue, he's opening the door for the Yankees to do the same with Red Sox starters -- Thursday night and for the rest of the season.
"We'll see what tomorrow brings,'' shrugged Farrell. "I don't know that. As obvious as this was, I felt like he needed to be checked. Well aware of what the thought across the field might be, that there might be more of a willingness to have our guys checked. But again, I think there's an accepted level of some additive used to gain a grip. I just felt like the two starts we've had against Pineda, that's been a little bit above that.''
"We're safe in that aspect,'' said Nieves. "We certainly use a lot of rosin. But I don't expect that (to be caught with anything).''
Indeed, the Sox -- privately and publicly -- have acknowledged that it's common practice. But the blatant way Pineda did so was too much to ignore.
"In conditions like tonight and last time when we faced him,'' said Farrell, "I think hitters will say, 'We want a pitcher to have a grip,' where a pitch doesn't get away from a guy. But when it's that obvious, I think there's better ways to maybe conceal it and that hasn't been the case.''
-- Sean McAdam, CSN New England