A funny thing happened after Alex Sanabia of the Miami Marlins allowed a home run to Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies in the second inning Monday night: He didn't allow any more runs over his 6 1/3 innings of work and picked up his first victory since April 16.
Was it in part because Sanabia was aided by putting a foreign substance on the baseball? The question arises naturally because the Phillies broadcast clearly shows Sanabia spitting on a new ball as Brown circled the bases in Miami's 5-1 victory at Marlins Park.
The Phillies might be looking at a case of highway slobbery right here. It doesn't appear that any reporters covering the game asked Sanabia about his spit take. They probably will Tuesday, if he's around the clubhouse. Heck, Major League Baseball might even try to get him to spit into a beaker.
In the meantime, let's take a look, frame by frame, to see what Sanabia might have been up to:
From that point on, Sanabia must have been licking his chops because the Phillies couldn't find home plate with a compass. As for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, he obviously was upset about losing to the Marlins. He didn't say spit to reporters.
Now, I've always thought that the term "spitball" was something of a euphemism for loading up the pelota with anything. Burleigh Grimes — one of the last pitchers to legally throw a spitter before it became outlawed in 1920 — would put so much spit and juice on the ball that fielders would complain about fielding it. Other pitchers, like Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox, were reputed to throw balls loaded with shoe polish.
"You put snot ... on the ball?" — Ricky Vaughn, to Eddie Harris in "Major League"
Sanabia's case is different. In fact, he loaded up the ball so quickly after Brown's at-bat, and appeared to rub the ball with such force, it's hard to imagine the ball not being all-but dried by the time he threw his next pitch to Delmon Young. Did he really get any extra drop or action on the ball because of his saliva? He had two strikeouts the rest of the game, if that's any indication.
To compare: Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox caught flak for apparently using sunscreen and rosin to take moisture off the ball for a better grip. Sanabia appeared to be adding it for the same purpose.
He's a regular Rob Dribble.
Still, it's against the rules. Expect him to be warned by the league, if not fined, and probably not suspended — unless there's more evidence or repeated charges.
Big BLS H/N: Dave Cameron of Fangraphs