Joe Girardi was defiant, Michael Pineda was casual, and the Red Sox were apparently indifferent.
There was very clearly something on Pineda’s hand tonight, but what it was and whether it made any sort of difference — or whether it’s simply an unspoken but accepted part of the game — we might never know. What we know for certain is that Pineda was terrific in his first career start at Yankee Stadium. He waited two years for this, and he delivered in a big way.
“He throws like this and he’s going to be tough to beat, I don’t care what team he’s throwing against,” Derek Jeter said. “He just has a lot of confidence, and it starts with his health. Evidently he’s feeling good, and he worked hard at it. He worked extremely hard at it. I’m happy for him.”
The gunk on Pineda’s hand was spotted by Boston’s NESN broadcast around the third inning. At some point, his palm was clean. As you can see in the picture above, the stuff was definitely there. It looked like pine tar.
“I don’t use pine tar,” Pineda said. “It’s dirt. I’m sweating on my hand too much in between innings. … I usually put the dirt between innings when my hand gets sweaty.”
Maybe that’s true. Pineda certainly seemed completely unbothered by the questions about the substance. Girardi was asked about it several times, often quite pointedly, and he kept saying he had no idea what it was.
“I never saw it,” Girardi said. “There’s nothing really for me to talk about.”
Speaking to a pool reporter, crew chief Brian O’Nora said the umpires were never asked to investigate.
“I can’t comment on it because we’re on the field and the Red Sox didn’t bring it to our attention, so there’s nothing we can do about it,” O’Nora said. “If they bring it to our attention, then you’ve got to do something, but they didn’t bring it to our attention.”
So Pineda pitched on, through four hitless innings and through six scoreless innings. He finally allowed a solo home run and then a single in the seventh, at which point he was pulled from the game, but not before he’d made an emphatic statement while pitching at Yankee Stadium for the first time. Two years ago, the Yankees gave up their most valuable trade chip to get this guy, and for at least one night he showed why they believed he was worth such an investment.
“I’m so happy tonight,” Pineda said. “My first win at Yankee Stadium, my first time pitching at Yankee Stadium. I’m very, very excited tonight. … I heard the fans. The fans were happy tonight, so I’m happy, too.”
· Every other pitching performance was pretty easily overshadowed, but David Phelps was outstanding tonight. After coughing up three home runs in his first two outings, Phelps got a big out in his previous outing, then retired all seven batters he faced tonight. The bullpen was thin, and Phelps shouldered the load. “I know what I’m capable of, and those first two outings isn’t showing what I can do,” Phelps said. “To come out in a big situation like that, pitch like I know that I can, is really big for me.”
· Although Phelps said he was never told that he would be in the game for the final seven outs, he looked at the lineup and realized he had a chance as long as he pitched well. This was his first save. “I knew I had a chance to (finish it),” Phelps said. “I looked at the lineup and saw who was coming up. I knew I was going to be facing some righties, and I just figured as long as I was keeping guys off base, they were going to let me go. … Every time I came in they were like, ‘You still feel good?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ They were like, ‘You still got it.’ I wanted to finish it.”
· Phelps worked as a starter in the minors, so he never had a save there. Maybe he had some sort of save situation in college, but this was definitely his first save as a pro.
· Speaking of firsts, this was Pineda’s first big league win since July 30, 2011 against Tampa Bay.
· Don’t completely overlook the other Yankees pitcher tonight. Called up specifically to help the Yankees against lefties this week, Cesar Cabral faced A.J. Pierzynski and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the seventh — not exactly Ortiz and Sizemore, but still — and struck out each of them. The Yankees had three relievers who weren’t available tonight (Kelley, Warren and Nuno) but Cabral and Phelps let them get through the game without even using their top lefty. That’s pretty huge on a night when the pen needed it.
· Biggest hit of the night was probably Brian McCann’s RBI single in fourth inning. It was a scoreless game at the time, with both Pineda and Clay Buchholz pitching well, but McCann snapped an 0-for-14 to drive in a go-ahead run. “It felt great,” McCann said. “I’ve been feeling good at the plate, just haven’t had the results that I’m looking for, but at the same time just keeping my same approach and they’ll start falling.”
· Maybe not the most important hit, but definitely the feel-good hit was Dean Anna’s solo homer in the fifth inning. It was his first Yankee Stadium hit and his first big-league homer. “It’s kind of like, ‘Am I really running around these bases right now?'” Anna said. “It was a great feeling.”
· Jeter went 2-for-4 with a hard-hit double over Daniel Nava’s head in right field. He’s now hitting .290 this season.
· Facing his former team for the first time, Jacoby Ellsbury had an RBI single that scored Jeter and gave the Yankees their final run of the night. The hit came against his former minor league roommate Buchholz.
· Girardi acknowledged after the game that the Yankees will probably shift more this season than they have previously. “It’s something that our data has shown that we’ll incorporate more shifts this year than we have in the past,” he said. “We’ve probably shifted more than people realized against left-handers but I think you’ll see a few more against right-handers, which is the difference.”
· Pulling Pineda after 94 pitches because of his workload or fatigue? “There’s probably both,” Girardi said. “I thought there were some signs of fatigue. I thought he started to get up in the zone and they started to center some balls. That’s why his pitch count was getting up there with the injury that he’s coming off. It was really a combination of both.”
· Final word goes to Jeter: “You try to win every time out. That’s not always the case, but it’s always good to win the first game. But it’s a long series, four games, and we just want to continue to play well. It starts with our pitching staff, and another great outing Pineda, and Phelps came in and close the game out, so our pitching staff deserves all the credit tonight.”
Associated Press photos