Early Tuesday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was taking a look at a Tampa Bay Rays team he was mostly unfamiliar with. He watched as reliever Joel Peralta came out to get his work in with the rest of the Rays relievers and he remembered the work Peralta had done for the Nationals in 2010.
“How’d we let this guy get away?” Johnson wondered aloud, recalling Peralta’s 2.02 ERA in 49 innings that year. In what seemed like a somewhat puzzling decision at the time, the Nats non-tendered Peralta after the season.
“One thing led to another,” Johnson said. “And I got probably more information than I needed.”
That information was put to use in the eighth inning when Peralta was summoned from the Rays’ bullpen and Johnson requested that home plate umpire Tim Tschida check his glove.
“It was a rumor that he liked a little pine tar,” Johnson said. Asked where that rumor came from, Johnson said: “Well, he pitched here. I don’t think it’s a secret.”
The glove was confiscated and removed from the field after Tschida saw what he called a “significant amount” of pine tar on it. Peralta was ejected and appeared to tip his cap toward the Nationals’ dugout. He also will face an automatic suspension of an undetermined length.
When Ryan Mattheus came out to pitch the top of the ninth, the umpires were sent out by the Rays to check Mattheus’ hat and glove. Tschida told Rays manager Joe Maddon he’d get one check and to use it wisely, but the Washington’s right-hander was clean.
Once the game ended, though, Maddon made his feelings on Johnson’s act perfectly clear.
“I promise you one thing,” Maddon said. “You’re going to see brand new gloves throughout the major leagues starting tomorrow with pitchers on every major league ballclub. … It’s kind of a common practice that people have done for years. To point one guy out because he’d pitched here a couple years ago, there was probably some common knowledge based on that. And I thought it was a real cowardly move.”
After Mattheus retired the side, striking out B.J. Upton to end the inning, he appeared to glance at the Rays’ dugout as well. Mattheus said later he was fully expecting to be checked. All Tschida said he found was a sweaty hat and a glove that was “clean as a whistle.”
There are more layers to this, though, which make it all the more interesting with two games remaining in the series.
Not only was Peralta a member of the Nats’ bullpen in 2010, he also pitched for their Triple-A affiliate that year. That means he came into contact with many current Nationals, including relievers Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen, as well as pitching coach Steve McCatty and first base coach (then manager of the Triple-A club) Trent Jewett.
The relievers who’d played with Peralta were mum. Several declined comment and those who did speak, like Clippard, said only that Peralta did “unbelievable things for us, was a great guy and we loved having him here.”
“I don’t know exactly what he puts in his glove or what they found or what he uses,” said Mattheus, who played with Peralta in the Rockies’ organization in 2009. “As far as I know Joel, he’s a great, great guy. Standup guy. I don’t think he’s out there cheating trying to get over on us or anything like that. It’s unfortunate.”
Neither Maddon nor Peralta denied the existence of the pine tar on Peralta’s glove, but Maddon was adamant in defending his reliever as one of many offenders in that department.
“There was pine tar on his glove,” Maddon said. “I can’t tell you if it was more or if it was less and I can’t deny that it was there.”
Asked if it was accidental, Maddon said: “I didn’t say that,” and intimated that there wouldn’t be too many pitchers or position players who agreed with what Johnson did.
Asked if he felt, then, that what Peralta was doing was not cheating, Maddon said: “I didn’t say that. Joel is using pine tar. He had pine tar in his glove. I’m saying that to suggest that he’s the only one who’s doing it is inappropriate.”
This is not the first time the Nationals have been involved in an incident like this. In June of 2005, they were in Anaheim when they instructed the umpires to examine the glove of Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly was found to have pine tar in his glove that night and an altercation ensued between both teams and managers Mike Scioscia and Frank Robinson. Tschida also umpired that game, and he noted that this incident was much tamer.
At the end of the series, it was Jose Guillen, who’d played for the Angels the previous season and was removed from the team in the playoffs, who admitted to tipping off Robinson and the Nationals. Then he called Scioscia “a piece of garbage.” Scioscia’s bench coach that night? Maddon.
Maddon left his post-game press conference with one thought for Johnson and the Nationals as they send Stephen Strasburg to the mound on Wednesday in the series’ middle game.
“Before you start throwing rocks,” Maddon said. “Understand where you live.”