NL wild card: Mets demand umps check Padres P Joe Musgrove's ears for sticky substance

For five innings, New York Mets fans had two things to talk about. San Diego Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove was dealing against their team, and he was doing it with some curiously shiny ears.

The winner-take-all Game 3 of the National League wild-card series entered bizarre territory when Mets manager Buck Showalter acted on those concerns, requesting the umpires perform a substance check on Musgrove ahead of the sixth inning.

The umpires obliged, and soon Musgrove was having his ears felt up on national television as Citi Field fans prematurely waved goodbye to him.

Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, the umpires apparently found no reason to show Musgrove the door. Musgrove, who took a perfect game into the fifth inning, remained in the game and delivered another 1-2-3 inning.

After the events, Musgrove had a message for the Mets' dugout:

The umpires' inspection didn't stop Citi Field from chanting "cheater" at Musgrove over the ensuing inning, despite evidence to the contrary. Musgrove would exit the game after seven shutout innings with one hit allowed, one walk and five strikeouts.

The Padres eventually won, 6-0, and had some fun with their pitcher's allegations in the ensuing champagne celebration.

Showalter said after the game he had received some in-game data on Musgrove that made him feel like he had to request a check.

Some fans noted Musgrove's spin rates were up triple-digits for most pitches, but that also coincided with a bump in velocity (more velocity equals more spin). Meanwhile, theories abounded on social media about Musgrove. Could his ears just be really sweaty? Could it be water? Did he find a way to take off the sticky substance before checks?

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Andrew McCutchen had a somewhat believable theory, that Musgrove was using Red Hot heat ointment to focus — apparently not uncommon among pitchers — and Showalter was engaging in some gamesmanship. However, Musgrove said he didn't use the stuff after the game and said the shine could have come from lotion.

Just another night in a very normal sport.

Umpire Alfonso Marquez (72) checks for substances behind the ears of San Diego Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (44) during the sixth inning of Game 3 of a National League wild-card baseball playoff series against the New York Mets, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Joe Musgrove did not seem to appreciate the Mets' concerns. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)