Don’t check the ears unless you’re sure

There’s not much a baseball manager can do to directly affect the course of a game when his team is losing in the final innings. A pinch hitter won’t get you back four runs, and smart bullpen management can only keep the deficit from getting bigger. I imagine it’s a desperate place, especially when the game in question will send one team home and the other through to the next round of the playoffs. Mets manager Buck Showalter found himself in that helpless zone when his players trailed 4-0 behind the Padres in the sixth inning of Game 3 of the wild card round, which perhaps explains why he asked the umpires to stop the game and to rub your ears.

After watching five innings as Padres starter Joe Musgrove threw a one-hit ball and prevented the Mets from even making solid contact on the plate, Showalter decided something had to be done. With Musgrove warming up before the end of the sixth, Showalter went onto the field, met with the umpires and asked them to check Musgrove for foreign matter. This led to a surreal scene in which several referees gathered in front of Musgrove, his glove, his hat and his… ears?

OK, so here’s the thing: Musgrove’s ears were particularly bright, so much so that increasingly dour Mets fans watching the game at home kept bringing it up on Twitter. I wonder how it must feel to be that guy, who tweeted about Musgrove’s ears on the Mets’ official Twitter account just before Showalter went out to claim the check. Maybe sometimes it’s worth saying something when you see something?

As much as I’d like to believe that Showalter made a desperate move on national television because some guys were whining on Twitter, it’s far more likely that he and the Mets dugout were monitoring spin rates on Musgrove’s courts that were noticeably above his seasonal averages.

We know from the recent sticky crackdown that foreign matter’s primary function is to increase spin rate, but does that really explain what was going on with Musgrove on Sunday night? He also threw a bit harder than usual, which of course would result in a higher spin rate, and it’s not at all out of the question that he threw harder just because he got excited in an elimination match.

Showalter was asked about the ear check incident after the game, and while he muttered a somewhat rueful reply, he indicated that it was actually Musgrove’s spin rates that had alarmed him: “Without going into a lot of things, you know, those Spin rates and various things I’m sure you all know… I get a lot of information on the dugout. We certainly didn’t have much luck with the way it went, that’s for sure.

And how did Musgrove feel about it? Well, he spent the next six outs after the check looking at the Mets dugout and channeling Kenny Powers.

“It almost started a fire under me,” Musgrove said during his remarkably amiable post-game press conference (I would have stood on the table, sprayed champagne and yelled, “I’ve got your sticky stuff right here, Buck!”), even though he did managed to talk some shit when he came out on ESPN later that night:

There’s that word again: desperate. Perhaps Showalter deserves credit for accepting that anyone can be desperate when they’re four runs down in the sixth inning of an elimination game, but he probably should have spent more time considering the opportunity cost of his dice roll. What if Musgrove got sticky stuff on his ears and got kicked out of the game? Great, you still lost four heats. And if he doesn’t do anything shameful, as the judges concluded? Well, now you’re inviting Musgrove to take it to another level just to humiliate you further, and B) essentially tell your own players, Sorry guys, I guess it’s not some sticky stuff stopping you from putting a run on the ball. I think it’s just because you suck! Musgrove sped through the next two innings, and the Mets looked increasingly mellow as the game neared its end.

And yet the question remains: Why were Musgrove’s ears so damn shiny? Former player Andrew McCutchen suspected he did smeared his ears with something called Red Hot, a pain-relieving balm that would induce a burning sensation in Musgrove’s ears to keep him focused (baseball players are psychotic). However, Musgrove dismissed that theory after the game, telling reporters it was nothing more than sweat that made his ears shine at night. “I’m sweating my ass off out there,” he said.

So there you have it. Joe Musgrove is not a scammer. He’s just a wet guy. Don’t check the ears unless you’re sure

John Verrall

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