lowered his ERA to 1.01 with seven shutout innings Wednesday. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The stellar work of Clay Buchholz has been one of the biggest reasons why the Red Sox have bolted to a 20-8 start this year. The 28-year-old righty hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his six starts, and hasn't given up a homer in his last 40 2/3 innings. Too good to be true? In wake of his seven inning, two-hit performance against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, two members of Toronto's broadcast crew, both former major league pitchers, have accused him of loading up the baseball.
On Wednesday night, Dirk Hayhurst said via Twitter, "Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick'em painted up his left forearm." He continued, "This was substantial. You could see it slathered on there."
On Thursday, Jack Morris joined the chorus, accusing Buchholz of throwing a spitball after reviewing video of the game. "I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game... and said, 'What do you think of this?' and I said, 'Well, he's throwing a spitter. Cause that's what it is."
Morris took his allegations to Red Sox manager John Farrell, telling him that he saw Buchholz going to his forearm, which was smeared with a substance that he then applied to the ball. "It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it's all in his hair," Morris told ESPN. He also spoke to Red Sox catchers David Ross (who caught Wednesday's outing) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
During Thursday night's game, Morris noted that Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa was rubbing his fingers on his left forearm as well, and questioned whether he was cheating as well. "It looks to me like he’s got a little something on his forearm also," he said. I don’t know if that’s anything in the slippery point — it might be some tacky stuff to get a feel, but it’s obvious that he has gone to his forearm, too."
Buchholz denied the allegations, as did Farrell, who spent 2011 and 2012 at the helm of the Blue Jays before returning to the Red Sox — for whom he served as pitching coach from 2007-2010 — this past winter. Both said that the substance on Buchholz's left arm was rosin, a tacky substance pitchers are legally allowed to use to grip the baseball.
Major League Baseball has long been accused of looking the other way when it comes to doctoring the ball. Though the spitball was outlawed after the 1920 season save for a handful of pitchers grandfathered in, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry gained notoriety in the 1960s and 1970s for applying saliva or vaseline to the ball. Fellow Hall of Famer Don Sutton, a contemporary of Perry's, acquired the nickname "Black and Decker" due to his reputation for scuffing balls with sandpaper. Though allegations of doctoring the ball or applying foreign substances to it tend to surface from time to time, ejections and suspensions for doing so have become increasingly rare. When the Rays' Joel Peralta was suspended eight games last year for having pine tar on his glove, it marked the first time since 2005 that a pitcher was even ejected from a game for such an infraction. In the 2006 World Series, the Tigers' Kenny Rogers was shown with some combination of dirt, rosin or pine tar on his hand, and umpires ordered him to clean if off, but he wasn't ejected.
When Peralta was suspended last year, USA Today ran a list of recent pitchers caught with a foreign substance that was pulled from Retrosheet:
• Sept. 30, 1980: Rick Honeycutt, Seattle: Sandpaper
• Aug. 23, 1982: Gaylord Perry, Seattle: Throwing doctored ball
• Aug. 3, 1987: Joe Niekro, Minnesota: Emery board in back pocket
• Aug. 10, 1987: Kevin Gross, Philadelphia: Sandpaper on glove
• Oct. 8, 1988: Jay Howell, L.A. Dodgers: Pine tar on glove (NLCS Game 3)
• May 1, 1999: Brian Mohler, Detroit: Sandpaper on left thumb
• June 9, 1999: Byung-Hyun Kim, Arizona: Heat balm on bandage in sleeve
• May 17, 2003: Zach Day, Montreal: Glue on hand
• Aug. 20, 2004: Julian Tavares, St. Louis: Pine tar on cap
• June 14, 2005: Brendan Donnelly, Anaheim: Pine tar on glove
• Oct. 22, 2006: Kenny Rogers, Detroit: Foreign substance on heel of pitching hand (World Series, not ejected)
• June 19, 2012: Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay: Pine tar on glove
It remains to be seen whether MLB takes the Buchholz allegations under review, as they did last year when Jose Valverde was accused of throwing a spitball. The Tigers' closer said he was wiping sweat from his mouth with his glove; MLB reviewed the video but did not discipline him. At the very least, the allegations make it likely that umpires and opposing managers will be on the lookout the next time Buchholz takes the mound, likely on Monday against the Twins.
Doctored ball or no, Buchholz has put up outstanding numbers this year, a far cry from last year's 4.56 ERA. He's gone seven innings in each of his six starts, has been credited with the win in each, and has allowed three or fewer hits and no runs in three of them. Overall, he has a 1.01 ERA with 9.5 strikeouts per nine, and colleague Cliff Corcoran placed him at the front of the pack in the AL Cy Young race in his most recent Awards Watch column.
No doubt some amount of his inevitable regression will be attributed to him ceasing to doctor the ball, whether or not MLB acts. Until he does, all eyes will be upon him.