In 2012, Clay Buchholz stayed healthy for the entire season after missing most of 2011, but his results were not good at all as he went just 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA, a 6.1 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 in 29 starts and 189.1 innings pitched for a Red Sox team going nowhere. This year has been entirely different. Buchholz has been arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball, going 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA, a 9.5 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 6 starts and 44.2 innings pitched. Buchholz is certainly far from this good, but it seems like he’s significantly better than he was last season and has regained the form that helped him manage a 2.33 ERA in 173.2 innings pitched. Buchholz’s performance was outstanding, but it was nothing more than a talented pitcher getting on a role–at least until his 6th start versus the Blue Jays.
As Buchholz dominated the Blue Jays for 7 shutout innings, Toronto broadcasters Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst made a surprising accusation: that Buchholz was throwing spitballs, that the movement on Buchholz’s pitches were being artificially enhanced by a foreign substance. They said that after seeing pitches like this. You can watch that GIF a hundred times, but it seems everything like that is just a nasty sinker at 96 MPH on the outside corner and not anything crazy. Morris claimed that there’s no chance that a pitch thrown as hard could have as dynamic movement as that pitch had, but it was just that on that particular pitch, Buchholz had great movement on it. It’s not like he was throwing pitches like that the entire game. If not something like a foreign substance, why is Buchholz pitching so well? Health, excellent fastball command, mechanics, even luck–why does it have to be something out of the ordinary? Why is it that because Buchholz is pitching well for six starts do we have to accuse him of breaking the rules?
We used to think that when a player took a big step forward, he had simply worked harder and made a breakthrough. The little middle infielders suddenly hitting 30 home runs were simply bulking up and changing their approaches at the plate. But then that delusion came crashing down. We heard all about steroids and the multitudes of players taking them and suddenly we had to be cynical whenever a player started hitting home runs like ever before. We thought we had been seeing all-time greats; instead, we were seeing stars, excellent players but not the best the game had ever seen, taking something extra to push themselves into the next tier. We scrutinized ourselves and each other for believing that players truly could hit 65 or 70 home runs. And we vowed to never let the game we love fool us like that and ruin our hopes and dreams again. That mindset will not leave us for a very long time.
Morris and Hayhurst accusing Buchholz of throwing spitballs encapsulates just how little of our blind faith remains. We see something amazing and we don’t deny how incredible it is, but in our minds we can’t make sense of it and refuse to believe that it can just be great without some catch. Our innocence as baseball fans is gone and all we can do is try to keep a level head on our shoulders as we take in the next player to burst onto the scene. Cynicism is natural, but can we contain it before it engulfs every baseball game we watch and refuses to let us appreciate the game of baseball the same way again?