COMMENTARY | After the debacle that was Game 1 of the World Series -- at least from the St. Louis Cardinals' perspective -- I fully expected to wake up to dozens of stories and tweets involving the words "Vaseline" and "Pete Kozma's glove."
But to find accusations of a foreign substance, instead, on the glove of Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester -- that was a surprise. Apparently, I haven't been keeping up.
If you haven't heard yet, let's take a quick look at what, exactly, everyone is talking about.
St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Pitcher Tweets Picture of Green Substance on Lester's Glove
According to his tweet details, High-A Palm Beach pitcher Tyler Melling's snapshot of Jon Lester and the alleged substance hit timelines during Game 1 at 10:12 p.m. Central time. The image was accompanied by Melling's supposition: "Jon Lester using a little Vaseline inside the glove tonight?"
The shot shows a greenish-colored spot easily discernible just inside Lester's black leather glove. Twitter accounts started distributing the picture en masse. It didn't take long for the accusation to gain momentum and reach a new level of seriousness.
Video of Jon Lester Tapping Spot of Alleged Substance Before Gripping Baseball Surfaces
A single picture alone is rarely enough to start an Internet firestorm, especially considering image-doctoring capabilities available to the common fan. But when independent evidence is presented that corroborates the evidence shown in the image, that's when outlets with a larger audience start paying attention.
The morning after Game 1, Deadspin.com posted a story that included the original Melling image and a new incriminating video. The short clip shows Lester come set, reach into his glove, tap the exact position of the previously shown substance with his fingertips, and then reach to grip the baseball.
It's possible Lester could claim he has a nervous tick, a superstitious routine that demands he tap his glove in that spot before each pitch. Perhaps the spot on his glove is simply the result, and not the cause, of frequent tapping and transfer of dirt, rosin, and other naturally occurring substances from his hand to the glove.
But such an explanation would be a reach, especially in light of other, seemingly unrelated (at the time) reports of possible cheating by Red Sox pitchers during the regular season.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports Explores Notion of Red Sox Pitchers Using Sunscreen to Cheat
In May of 2013, Clay Buchholz -- starting pitcher for the Red Sox -- was accused of using sunscreen to throw a variation of a "spitter." The concept is against Major League Baseball rules because it involves applying a foreign substance to the baseball, presumably to gain additional or unpredictable movement on pitches. The accusation prompted Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports to explore the idea more thoroughly in his regular column.
Here's a few observations about the sunscreen incident and coverage that makes it applicable to Jon Lester's possible infraction in Game 1:
1. The accusation involved Red Sox pitchers. While many believe most MLB pitchers engage in something similar, if not the exact BullFrog sunscreen practice, it's difficult to incriminate a team's pitching staff without prior links to cheating accusations. The May Buchholz incident, however, created a direct link between previous cheating accusations and other Red Sox pitchers.
2. The Buchholz incident occurred in a dome. No, Fenway Park is not a dome. But the game was played at night, which means the games share one commonality: There is no acceptable reason to have sunscreen on your arm as a pitcher in either one.
Because Buchholz was allegedly caught applying the substance to his arm anyway, it's possible Red Sox pitchers were told to be more discrete in their usage of the substance. This creates at least a plausible reason why Lester may have attempted to hide the substance inside his glove rather than the commonly accepted location of his arm.
3. The Buchholz incident was an independent piece of additional evidence. The video and picture of Lester's glove tactics are fairly significant on their own, but they still share one major trait: They are both tied to the same incident. That makes both vulnerable. If one is discredited, it's possible the other can be explained away as well.
The Buchholz incident, however, is in no way connected to a World Series game against the St. Louis Cardinals. It happened in May, in the regular season. It happened against the Toronto Blue Jays, not the Cardinals. And it was noticed and addressed by completely different news outlets. In fact, the only similarities between the two incidents only further incriminate both pitchers and the Red Sox.
So Let's Pretend Lester Was Cheating
The prevailing question at this point is, would it have made a difference if Lester had been caught cheating during the game?
In 2006, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Kenny Rogers pitched the Tigers to their only win of the World Series against the Cardinals. He did so despite being caught on live television with a foreign substance.
A former Cardinal player saw the telecast, called the Cardinals, and informed them of the substance. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa approached the umpires and simply asked that he clean it off without causing a stir. Rogers did so and the game resumed.
And Rogers still dominated the Cardinals.
With the way the Cardinals were struggling in Game 1, it's likely an earlier discovery of Lester's substance wouldn't have affected the final outcome. But now we'll never know.
When David Freese came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning, was it a little extra movement from a foreign substance on the ball that made him pound a 90-mph fastball into the ground for an inning-ending double play?
When Jon Jay came to the plate an inning later with two men on in scoring position and two outs, is it BullFrog -- the sunscreen brand previously in question -- that caused him to ground out to shortstop and kill a potential rally? Or was it just good pitching from one Jon to another?
How would the progression of the game differed if Freese smacks a double to clear the bases, as Mike Napoli did for the Sox earlier in the game? Does Lester get yanked in the fourth, fifth, or sixth innings? Do the Cardinals rally against the Red Sox's middle relief?
But regardless of what might have happened, the only thing that matters now is what did happen. The Red Sox dominated the Cardinals in Game 1, and now the Redbirds once again look to Michael Wacha to save their season in Game 2.
No, the Cardinals do not face elimination with a loss, but an 0-2 deficit not only creates a discouraging hole to climb out of, but it also ensures a return to raucous Fenway Park. And we've already seen how Fenway affects these young Cardinals players.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- Jon Lester
- Red Sox
- Clay Buchholz