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Max Scherzer, Joe Girardi beef dramatic side effect of MLB’s questionable new rules

Max Scherzer Joe Girardi
Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer (31) and manager Dave Martinez (4) talk with umpire Alfonso Marquez (72) as they check for a foreign substance on Scherzer during the middle of the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There really doesn’t seem to be anything good that’s going to come out of this new policing from Major League Baseball to ensure that pitchers don’t use illegal foreign substances while on the mound.

Patting down pitchers and perusing through their parts is only adding more time and awkward encounters for a game that’s struggling to hold the attention of its viewership.

But at least we received some drama on Tuesday night in Philadelphia when Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer almost lost it when he was checked three times by umpires during his five-inning appearance.

The first two were league-mandated with umpires given a two-check maximum during a starting pitcher’s outing, but Phillies manager Joe Girardi asked for a third challenge in the middle of the fourth inning to set Scherzer off and almost lead to some fisticuffs — which would certainly be one way to liven up a ballgame.

Scherzer’s name had been mentioned as one of the most egregious violators of sticky-stuff usage throughout his career. So when he started running his fingers through his hair after nearly hitting Phillies youngster Alec Bohm in the head with a 95-mph fastball, Girardi got suspicious.

“The whole night, I was sick of licking my fingers and tasting rosin. I couldn’t even get sweat from the back of my head, because it really wasn’t a warm night,” Scherzer said. “So the only part that was sweaty on me was actually my hair, so I had to take off my hat to get any kind of moisture on my hand, to try and mix with the rosin. For me, that’s the confusing part, because I’m just trying to get a grip of the ball.”

Scherzer came back in the at-bat to strike out Bohm before a demonstrative Girardi flagged down the umpires to check the Washington ace again.

“I’ve seen Max a long time, since 2010. Obviously, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. I’ve never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight, ever,” Girardi said. “It was suspicious for me. He did it four or five times. It was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I just got to do what’s right for my club.”

But he got everyone offended — which does say something about the fragility of a professional athlete’s ego — but is understandable when it begins to mess with the rhythm and cadence of a starting pitcher.

Scherzer incredulously threw his hat to the ground and unbuckled his belt, spreading his arms out wide as to signal there was nothing on him. As the umpires checked, Scherzer yelled at the Phillies’ dugout while Nationals manager Davy Martinez got involved.

“I’d have to be an absolute fool to actually be using something tonight when everybody’s antenna is so far high,” Scherzer said.

After getting through the fifth inning and knowing he’d be pulled, Scherzer walked off the mound leering at the Phillies’ dugout while the Nationals bench provided a profanity-laced soundtrack behind him. Girardi emerged from the dugout looking ready for a fight before he was kicked out of the game.

“I wasn’t challenging the club. There were some coaches screaming at me, coaches I know, and it bothered me,” Girardi said. “I’m not playing games here. I have respect for people over there, I have respect for what Max has done in his career. But again, I’ve got to do what’s right for my team.”

And this was only the second day of commissioner Rob Manfred’s new crackdown.

“These are Manfred rules,” Scherzer said. “Go ask him… Hopefully, the players across the league understand that what we’re doing right now, this is not the answer.

“I understand that there’s a problem with Spider Tack and we’ve got to get that out of the game. But I also think there’s a way to handle this that’s a better way.”

Scherzer received support around the league, like from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

“You better find something if you’re going to call him out like that,” Kershaw said. “Maybe there should be like a punishment if a manager checks a guy and there is something. But other than that, it is what it is. It’s whatever.”

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