Umpires inspect Musgrove's ears after request from Mets

October 10th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Through five innings in Game 3 of the National League Wild Card Series on Sunday night, had limited the Mets to one hit. The Padres' right-hander was as dominant as he’s been since he put pen to paper on a $100 million contract extension two months ago – an extension he signed with games like this in mind.

Evidently, Mets manager Buck Showalter thought Musgrove’s outing was too good to be true. Or, at the very least, he wanted to find a way to throw Musgrove off his seemingly unshakeable groove.

Whatever the reason, it led to a bizarre scene during the Padres’ 6-0 series-clinching victory at Citi Field. When Musgrove emerged for the bottom of the sixth inning, Showalter asked the umpiring crew to inspect for a foreign substance.

The umpires convened, and after a short discussion, they approached Musgrove. Crew chief Alfonso Márquez informed Musgrove that he needed to check a few things: his hat, his hands, his face and -- in the enduring image from the night -- his ears.

“I said, ‘You take what you want, man,’” Musgrove said. “He checked it all. He found nothing. And I went back to work.”

And that’s pretty much how it went. Musgrove pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, in what he said was the best outing of his career – yes, better even than his famous drought-snapping no-hitter in 2021. The Padres' bullpen did the rest, and San Diego secured its place in the NL Division Series.

“At the point in the game when it happened, I was so dialed in already,” Musgrove said. “All my pitches felt good. I felt like I was executing. So it almost just kind of lit a fire under me.”

If Showalter intended to throw Musgrove off his game, it didn’t work. The San Diego-area native became the first pitcher to throw seven scoreless while allowing just one hit in a winner-take-all postseason game.

After the game, Showalter was asked for his reasoning behind his check of Musgrove. He cited “spin rates and different things” as having jumped out at him.

“I'm charged with doing what's best for the New York Mets,” Showalter said. “If it makes me look however it makes me look, whatever, I'm going to do it every time and live with the consequences.

“I'm not here to not hurt somebody's feelings. I'm going to do what's best for our players and the New York Mets. I felt like that was best for us right now. There's some pretty obvious reasons why it was necessary.”

Showalter didn’t elaborate much further than that, though he noted, “We certainly weren't having much luck the way it was going, that's for sure.”

Regarding Showalter’s alluding to “spin rates,” indeed, pitchers can increase the spin on their pitches by using foreign substances. (In the baseball world, those substances are generally known as “sticky stuff.”) Increased spin generally makes pitches tougher to hit.

On Sunday, Musgrove’s spin rate had indeed risen slightly. The spin on his fastball was 2,559 rpm during the regular season. Through six innings against the Mets, it was 2,667. But that uptick was relatively moderate -- the type of uptick that generally comes with an increase in fastball velocity. And, sure enough, Musgrove’s average fastball had jumped from 92.9 mph during the regular season to 94 mph.

Musgrove, of course, was working on an extra day of rest and pitching in what he called the biggest start of his life. If there was a bit of adrenaline, who could blame him?

“I tend to be a high-road guy,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “But the problem I have is that 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.”

After the inspection, Mets fans began chants of “cheater” in Musgrove’s direction (which clearly did little to faze Musgrove). But, if nothing else, Márquez’s inspection seemed to prove the opposite.

“All Buck requested was for us to check for an illegal substance,” Márquez said. “That's what the crew did. We checked him and found nothing.”

According to a memo distributed by MLB to teams before the 2022 season, starting pitchers are likely to be checked more than once per game, while relievers are checked upon entering a game or at the end of the inning. Umpires were instructed to be “more vigilant and unpredictable in the timing and scope” of their checks.

Following protocols, the umpires listened to Showalter’s request, met near the mound, then informed Melvin and Musgrove of what was coming. If Musgrove’s ears were shiny -- as the TV broadcast noted -- he says he was just “sweating like a dog.”

“And once we found nothing," Márquez said, "I just gave him a thumbs up and we continued.”

So Musgrove continued right on dominating the Mets. He needed just 86 pitches to give one of the most dominant pitching performances in Padres postseason history.

Afterward, amid a raucous clubhouse celebration, approached Musgrove with a bottle of champagne and doused him, yelling, “I got your sticky stuff right here.”

Musgrove, eschewing goggles in favor of sunglasses, broke into a huge smile and soaked it in. Shortly thereafter, he spoke with reporters and said there were no hard feelings toward Showalter.

“I get it man. It's a do-or-die game for both sides,” Musgrove said. “Loser goes home. I was cruising up to that point. I think he was just doing whatever he could to get me out of that game.”

Didn’t work. And by the time Musgrove left the mound, the Padres had a six-run lead and were well on their way to Los Angeles for the NLDS.