NEW YORK — Joe Musgrove got an earful — and didn’t mind at all.
The San Diego Padres pitcher was working on a one-hitter and about to face the Mets in the sixth inning when New York manager Buck Showalter walked out to crew chief Alfonso Marquez.
Two minutes later, the umpire had a hand in each of the pitcher’s ears, as if a magician about to pull out a coin.
“He’s not going to find nothing,” Musgrove remembered thinking to himself.
Showalter took the extraordinary step of requesting Musgrove be searched for banned sticky substances Sunday, a move many perceived as desperate gamesmanship that didn’t throw the pitcher off track. Musgrove completed seven innings of one-hit ball, helping San Diego beat the Mets 6-0 in the decisive Game 3 of their NL wild-card series Sunday night.
“I feel kind of bad about it,” Showalter said. “He’s too good a pitcher, and they’re too good — without getting into a lot of things, the spin rates and different things that I’m sure you’re all aware of when you see something that jumps out at you — I get a lot of information in the dugout that — we certainly weren’t having much luck the way it was going, that’s for sure. ”
Musgrove, a first-time All-Star, had a 4-0 lead and had pitched to one batter over the minimum, allowing Pete Alonso’s leadoff single in the fifth. After Showalter came out on the field, the umpires gathered between the mound and first. Marquez then went to the mound, searched Musgrove’s cap and glove, then both ears.
“I mean I get it dude,” Musgrove said on the live television broadcast after the final out. “They’re on their last leg. They’re desperate. They’re doing everything they can to get me out of the game at that point.”
Fans yelled “Cheater!” at Musgrove, a member of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series champions that were found by Major League Baseball to have broken rules by using a video camera to steal signs.
Musgrove told The Associated Press this month he feels uncomfortable wearing his championship ring and wants “one that feels earned” with his hometown Padres.
“I tend to be a high road guy,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Joe Musgrove is a man of character. Questioning his character, to me, that’s the part I have a problem with — and I’m here to tell everybody that Joe Musgrove is as above board as any pitcher I know, any player I know, and unfortunately that happened to him, because the reception that he got after that was not warranted.”
Umpires allowed him to continue pitching, and after striking out Tomás Nido for the second out, Musgrove made a gesture with his hand across his nose toward the Mets dugout.
After Brandon Nimmo’s inning-ending lineout, Musgrove glared at the Mets dugout and third baseman Manny Machado threw up both arms in a gesture toward San Diego fans behind the dugout on the third-base side.
“It motivated me a little bit, man. It fired me up.” Musgrove said. “An opportunity to stick to ’em a little bit and stick it to the crowd. I took it, and then I had to get back to work.”
Musgrove threw the first no-hitter in Padres history, the first of a record nine no-hitters across baseball in 2021 that helped prompt a crackdown by MLB that June on the use of foreign sticky substances by pitchers to improve their grip.
Umpires now routinely check pitchers’ gloves, hats and fingers for sticky stuff after innings. Marquez, a big league umpire since 1999, said he had been asked for only one similar spot check.
“All Buck requested was for us to check for an illegal substance, and that’s what the crew did,” Marquez said. “We checked him and we found nothing.”
The bizarre inspection, which caused a 3 1/2-minute delay, lit up social media.
“I guarantee Musgrove has Red Hot on his ears,” Milwaukee outfielder Andrew McCutchen tweeted. “Pitchers use it as mechanism to stay locked in during games. It burns like crazy and IDK why some guys thinks it helps them but in no way is it `sticky.’ Buck is smart tho. Could be trying to just throw him off.”
Musgrove allowed one hit in seven innings with five strikeouts and one walk, throwing 59 of 86 pitches for strikes.
His 28 fastballs averaged 2,662 revolutions per minute through six innings, up from a 2,559 average, and their velocity averaged 93.9 mph, 1 mph more than during the regular season. His curve averaged 2,904, up from 2,722.
“There’s some pretty obvious reasons why it was necessary,” Showalter said. “I’m charged with doing what’s best for the New York Mets. If it makes me look however it makes me look or whatever, I’m going to do it every time and live with the consequences.”