This much is clear: Michael Pineda had a dark substance smudged on his pitching hand during his first win for the New York Yankees.
Pine tar or dirt? We might never know.
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Pineda took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit an RBI single off old roommate Clay Buchholz in his first game against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees’ 4-1 victory Thursday night left a bit of a mystery: Were Pineda’s pitches plain old nasty, or was something more sinister involved?
"It’s dirt," Pineda said. "Between the innings, I’m sweating too much, my hand. I’m putting dirt — I’m grasping the dirt. … I’m not using pine tar."
Ellsbury drew all the pregame attention after switching sides in the rivalry during the offseason. But it was the dark brown, seemingly tacky substance on the lower palm of Pineda’s right hand that became the focus.
Close-up camera shots showed Pineda (1-1) pitching during the early innings with something on his hand, and there was speculation it was pine tar to help him get a better grip on a chilly night. The game was never stopped for an umpire to examine him, and whatever it was, it was gone by the fifth.
"I became aware of it in the fourth inning through the video that someone had seen," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And then, when he came back out for the fifth inning, it looked, based on where it was told to me it was located, it looked like the palm of his right hand was clean."
Buchholz and fellow Red Sox ace Jon Lester both attracted questions last year about substances they had on the mound, but nothing came of them.
"The Red Sox didn’t bring it to our attention, so there’s nothing we can do about it," umpire crew chief Brian O’Nora said. "If they bring it to our attention, then you’ve got to do something."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi essentially repeated the same answer five times during his postgame news conference.
"I never saw it. There’s nothing really for me to talk about," he said.
Making his first Yankee Stadium start 27 months after he was acquired from Seattle, Pineda appeared completely recovered from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for two years. Throwing at up to 95 mph, he allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked two.
Brian McCann ended an 0-for-14 slide with a run-scoring single that put the Yankees ahead during a two-run fourth that also included a run-scoring double-play grounder by Alfonso Soriano.
In just his third big league start after 554 games in the minor leagues, 27-year-old infielder Dean Anna homered as New York boosted its lead to 4-0 in the fifth.
Anna opened spring training wearing No. 93 after six minor league seasons with San Diego, which traded him to New York in November. Now wearing a more respectable No. 45, he was greeted after the homer by Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who gave him a high-five. Anna had received more than 100 emails and texts by the time the game ended, and he even got the ball back.
"Words can’t explain it. Honestly, they really can’t. All the history with these two teams," Anna said.
This was slightly different than the way he dreamed it would happen.
"In Wrigley Field, actually," he said. "But Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox I think is pretty good, too."
After spending nine years in the Red Sox organization and winning World Series titles in 2007 and last year, Ellsbury left for a $153 million, seven-year contract with the Yankees. And his first game put him at the plate against Buchholz (0-1), his roommate at Lowell of the New York-Penn League in their first summer of professional ball.
On a 1-for-4 night, Ellsbury reached on third baseman Jonathan Herrera’s fielding error and scored the game’s first run in the fourth and singled sharply to left to drive in a run in the fifth.
Daniel Nava led off the seventh with a home run into the second deck in right, and Xander Bogaerts’ single chased Pineda.
With David Robertson on the disabled list and Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren unavailable after pitching Wednesday, the Yankees scrambled their bullpen. Cesar Cabral and David Phelps retired Boston’s last nine batters — striking out five — and Phelps got seven outs for his first career save.
"I just figured as long as I was keeping guys off base, they were going to let me go," Phelps said. "Any time you can get a first, as long as it’s a good first, is always exciting."