NEW YORK — Joe Musgrove limited the Mets to one hit in five innings Sunday night in Game 3 of the National League Wild Card Series. The Padres right-hander has dominated since he signed a $100 million extension two months ago — a game he signed with such a game in mind.
Apparently, Mets manager Buck Showalter thought Musgrove’s outing was too good to be true. Or, at least, he wanted to find a way to get Musgrove out of his seemingly unshakable state.
Whatever the reason, that led to the bizarre spectacle of the Padres’ 6-0 series seal at Citi Field. When Musgrove appeared in the bottom of the sixth inning, Showalter asked the umpires to check for foreign objects.
The referees convened and after a brief discussion they approached Musgrove. Crew captain Alfonso Márquez told Musgrove that he needed to check several things: his hat, his hands, his face, and – in the enduring image of the night – his ears .
“I said, ‘What do you want, man,'” Musgrove said. “He checked everything. He found nothing. I went back to work.”
That’s the way it is. Musgrove pitched seven at-bats in what he said was the best game of his career — yes, even better than his famously drought-hit no-hitter in 2021. The Padres’ bullpen did the rest, and San Diego secured its place in the NL Division series.
“I was so invested in the moment the game happened,” Musgrove said. “All my pitches feel good. I feel like I’m executing. So it’s almost like a fire is lit under me.”
If Showalter is going to let Musgrove out of his game, that’s not going to work. The San Diego-area native became the first pitcher to throw seven pitches without scoring in a winner-take-all playoff game.
After the game, Showalter was asked why he checked Musgrove. He cites “spin rates and different things” to attack him.
“I’m in charge of doing the best thing possible for the New York Mets,” Showalter said. “If it makes me look, no matter what it makes me look, I will do it every time, and suffer the consequences.
“I’m not here to not hurt other people’s feelings. I’m going to do what is best for our players and for the New York Mets. I feel like it’s the best thing for us right now. There are some very obvious reasons why it’s necessary of.”
Showalter didn’t elaborate further, though he noted, “We certainly didn’t have much luck, that’s for sure.”
Regarding the “spin rate” that Showalter mentioned, pitchers can actually increase a pitcher’s spin by using foreign substances. (In baseball circles, these substances are often referred to as “goo.”) Increased spin usually makes pitching harder to hit.
Musgrove did see a slight uptick in spin on Sunday. During the regular season, his fastball spins at 2,559 rpm. In six innings against the Mets, the score was 2,667. But the uptick is relatively modest — it’s usually accompanied by an increase in fastball speed. And, sure enough, Musgrove’s average fastball jumped to 94 mph from 92.9 mph during the regular season.
Of course, Musgrove is taking an extra day off and committing to what he calls the biggest start of his life. If there’s a little adrenaline, who can blame him?
“I tend to be a guy on the right track,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “But my problem is that Joe Musgrove is a character. For me, questioning his character is the problematic part of me. I’m here to tell you that Joe Musgrove and Any pitcher I know, any player I know is as upright. Unfortunately, that happened to him — because the reception he got after that was unwarranted.”
After the inspection, Mets fans began chanting “liar” in Musgrove’s direction (which apparently didn’t upset Musgrove). But, if nothing else, Márquez’s inspection seems to prove the opposite.
“Buck asked us to check for an illegal substance,” Marquez said. “That’s what the crew did. We checked him and found nothing.”
According to a memo MLB distributed to teams ahead of the 2022 season, starting pitchers may be checked more than once per game, while relief pitchers are checked at entry or end of game. Referees were instructed to “be more vigilant and unpredictable in the timing and scope of checks”.
As per protocol, the umpires listened to Showalter’s request, near the mound, and then informed Melvin and Musgrove of what was going to happen next. If Musgrove’s ears were glowing – as the TV broadcast pointed out – he said he was just “sweaty like a dog”.
“Once we got nothing,” Márquez said, “I gave him a thumbs up and we went on.”
So Musgrove continued to dominate the Mets. He needed just 86 pitches to deliver one of the most dominant pitching performances in Padres playoff history.
Later, during the raucous club celebrations, Manny Machado approached Musgrove with a bottle of champagne, watered him, and yelled: “I’ve got your goo right here. .”
Musgrove avoided the goggles, put on his sunglasses, put on a big smile, and basked in it. Shortly after, he spoke to reporters and said he had no bad feelings about Showalter.
“I get it, man. It’s a life-or-death game for both sides,” Musgrove said. “The underdog went home. I was cruising to that point. I think he was just doing everything he could to get me out of that game.”
Useless. When Musgrove left the mound, the Padres had a 6-point lead and were on their way to Los Angeles for the NLDS.