Max Scherzer endured three umpire checks for foreign substances, managing to pitch through the frequent interruptions to get the 3-2 win over the Phillies Tuesday night.
Drama struck in the bottom of the fourth when, with one out and a runner on first, and the Phillies trailing 3-1, Philly manager Joe Girardi appealed to the umpires to check Scherzer for foreign substances a third time, sending Scherzer into a rage.
Scherzer glared at Girardi as he left the game in the fifth, summoning a shouting Girardi from the Phillies dugout, earning Girardi an ejection.
"I've seen Max a long time, since 2010 — obviously, he's going to be a Hall of Famer — but I've never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight. Ever," Girardi told reporters after the game. "It was suspicious for me. He did it about four or five times. It was suspicious. I didn't mean to offend anyone. I just got to do what’s right for our club."
In a Wednesday morning appearance with The Sports Junkies, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo responded to Girardi by calling the Phillies manager a "con artist."
Asked if he thought Girardi was exhibiting gamesmanship, rather than being genuinely concerned that Scherzer may be using a foreign substance, Rizzo responded by saying "of course he was."
"What are we idiots? Of course he was," Rizzo said. "It's embarrassing for Girardi. It's embarrassing for the Phillies. It's embarrassing for baseball. Yes he was playing games. Hey, that's his right. Gamesmanship. It had nothing to do with substances. He had no probable cause to ask for it. The umps shouldn't have allowed it. But it happened and you've got to deal with it. This is what we're gonna have to deal with."
"You think you're gonna intimidate a Max Scherzer? It's just not gonna happen," he said. "You're just gonna piss him off and make him concentrate that much harder. This is about breaking Max's rhythm and frustrating him and that type of thing, and it didn't work. Our bullpen pitched great, we got some timely hits and we beat the Phillies. So we move on. We play them today again, so that's good."
"Well our partner here, Eric Bickel, believed Joe Girardi after the game, doesn't think it's gamesmanship," said Junkies host John-Paul Flaim.
"No, no, no. I think that factored in. Don't speak for me," Bickel said. "I think it factored in. But I do believe him when he said he just was flummoxed by him going to his head all the time. I think he tried to get him off his rhythm a little bit, but ultimately I agree with Mike, too. That backfires. I think you do that with other pitchers, but if you piss off Max Scherzer, that's gonna go the other way on you. So I don't think that was necessarily his goal."
"That was his goal. He's a con artist," Rizzo replied. "He got you in the con. You believe it and that's just the way it is. He's been doing that for years on TV."
"Wow, so hold on," Bickel said. "You're not a Joe Girardi fan at all."
"No, I love Joe Girardi," Rizzo clarified. "I've seen him play since he was in high school at Peoria, Illinois, scouted him at Northwestern. I know him well. But, I know him well."
"You know him too well, Rizz," said Jason Bishop. "That's the problem."
"I know him," Rizzo reiterated.
Asked what Major League Baseball can do to resolve this flaring issue, Rizzo said, "Well you're not supposed to ask umpires to check, unless you have probable cause to do so. You know, if you see a ball with some pine tar on it or something like that. That's probable cause to check the pitcher."
"But you're not supposed to be able to go and check — this is what I was told last night — you're not supposed to be able to just randomly ask the umpires to go check the pitcher and they check 'em," Rizzo continued. "This is new. This is our second day into this thing. A lot of things when they're new... I remember when we had the covid testing in the early days, it didn't work well but then MLB got it and it worked great."
"We have to level the playing field for hitters and pitchers, so we're clamping down on this substance stuff," he said. "These commercial adhesives that these handful of teams were using, it obviously can't be tolerated and we can't have it in the game. There has to be some middle roads for players to get a grip on the baseball and not affect the performance of the ball, such as with spin rates and that type of thing."
"I think MLB and the Players' Association will come up with some kind of answer," he said. "And until then, as we get used to this thing and we work the kinks out, I think it'll get better, like a lot of new things that we've implemented once we got a little more experience with it."