The Cardinals won the series finale against the high-flying White Sox, 4-0, at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday afternoon, giving them their second victory in their past six games and thereby avoiding a sweep at the hands of Chicago.
But they lost a hat.
When Giovanny Gallegos trotted out to the mound for the game’s biggest situation -- two on and one out in a one-run game in the seventh -- umpire crew chief Joe West, prompted by a flag raised by second-base ump Dan Bellino, paid him a visit on the mound. Scanning the brim of Gallegos’ cap, which appeared to have some dark marking, West forced the right-hander to change hats, with his old one confiscated and sent to MLB for further evaluation.
Unhappy with the circumstances, Cards manager Mike Shildt came out to voice his displeasure with the inspection, citing the wrong time of a big game to make any sort of statement by checking for illegal substances that give an advantage to pitchers. MLB is putting an emphasis on cracking down on such violations this season.
Shildt, who became capless himself as he grew more incredulous at the situation, was quickly ejected from the game for his choice language, West told a pool reporter.
“I was going to give my hat to Gio,” Shildt said, “but I didn't get that far.”
But it didn’t matter for Gallegos, who fanned two to end the threat in the seventh and then pitched a perfect eighth inning -- needing just 16 pitches for the five outs. And it didn’t matter for the Cardinals, because the second two-homer day of Tommy Edman’s career was enough to propel John Gant to victory, after his high-wire act improved to a cool 1.81 ERA in nine starts.
“It was interesting,” Shildt said, as part of a four-minute rant on the subject. “I was with my buddy Ernie Moore, our traveling secretary. He goes, ‘Man, that new hat didn't really seem to affect Gio’s stuff too much.’ …
“Gio’s chill, man. Gio’s like, ‘I just liked that hat.’”
Gallegos struck out three -- including each of the two batters he faced during the direct aftermath in the seventh -- new hat in tow.
Shildt said that the dark marking on Gallegos’ hat -- not uncommon to see on pitchers’ lids around the league -- was from an accrual of dirt, sunscreen and rosin, as the right-hander has worn the same hat all season.
“All I asked him was to change the hat. I don’t think he had any problem with it,” West said. “He said it was sunscreen. When Mike got upset about it, I don’t think he really knew what we were doing. I was just trying to keep the pitcher in the game.”
The Cardinals do not believe that the White Sox were behind the inspection of Gallegos’ hat, and Tony La Russa said he was in the opposite corner of the dugout when it took place. Shildt, for his part, commended the efforts from Major League Baseball in trying to rid the game of illegal substances.
But doing so with an even-keeled reliever like Gallegos, specifically, and in the high-leverage situation during which it came is what set Shildt off.
“It’s the wrong time and the wrong arena to expose it,” Shildt said.
West and the umpiring crew said they made Gallegos swap his hat in order to protect the players involved. The umpire -- who on Tuesday worked his 5,376th regular-season game, more than any other umpire in history -- said he didn’t want anyone to cry foul after the fact, and a simple swap of the cap could have resolved the issue quietly.
“We didn’t let him put himself in jeopardy,” West said. “We did that as a defensive mechanism for everybody. We want the players to play the game, we don’t want anybody to be accused of cheating or any of that stuff. So it was smarter to just remove the cap than to let him pitch and have somebody come out and complain.”
For Gallegos, the day was just another feather in his cap of the season. He owns 1.86 ERA despite being called upon for the most innings by a reliever (29) in the Majors, as of last out on Wednesday.
“That’s Gio,” Shildt said. “That's why he's able to pitch. We’ve noticed that for a long time, he's got a slow heartbeat.”
Gallegos and his teammates may be in the market for some new hats.
“The DeWitts [owners of the Cardinals], they're great, they can support us completely,” Shildt said. “They just have to get us more hats.”