Yet a game that had rolled along as the latest installment of the budding career of young Ervin Santana, and ended up as a 6-3 comeback win by the Nationals, was shaded in sharp contrast when Nationals manager Frank Robinson came out to speak with home-plate umpire Tim Tschida during a pitching change in the top of the seventh.
The results of Mr. Robinson's visit were three-fold.
Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly was ejected for having a foreign substance in his glove. A series of shoving matches ensued, Robinson and Angels manager Mike Scioscia exchanging words and Guillen was restrained as both benches and bullpens emptied. And the Angels unraveled with Guillen delivering a game-tying two-run homer off Scot Shields and Junior Spivey chipping in with the go-ahead RBI single.
The collapse was plenty, but adding specifically to Scioscia's ire was that the foreign substance was pine tar, something that, from his perspective, is tacitly approved. In his mind, it had nothing to do with the game.
"Pine tar does not affect the flight of the ball. It is something that has been around baseball for a long time," said Scioscia, who remembered teammate Jay Howell being suspended for a similar offense during the 1988 World Series. "It gives you a normal grip on the ball and when it is slick or cold."
Donnelly admitted using pine tar for helping him to grip the ball. He said he sweats a lot and uses the substance to control pitches from becoming dangerous to hitters, but not to get them out.
"I'm not trying to cheat and doctor the ball," Donnelly said. "That is not the case."
But crew chief Dale Scott was clear. Rule 8.02 (b) states that a pitcher may not have a foreign substance on his person.
"I have no knowledge of that," Scott said of an unstated but accepted practice of pitchers using pine tar. "Pine tar is not allowed."
Robinson further accused Donnelly of having sandpaper and getting a teammate to dispose of it. Both Scioscia and Donnelly were emphatic in their denials of sandpaper.
"He had no sandpaper. He had pine tar in this glove," Scioscia said. "That is absolutely ridiculous."
Scott confirmed that was not at issue.
"We don't know anything about any sandpaper," Scott said.
In any event, Donnelly's glove will be sent to the Commissioner's Office for inspection, after which any further penalties against Donnelly, such as a suspension, will be assessed.
Opposing managers have doing their part to get into Donnelly's head. In Chicago in late May, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen alerted umpires to the right-hander's habit of putting his hand to his mouth while still on the mound. On consecutive nights, Donnelly was charged with a ball and it appeared to rattle the reliever as he allowed homers both nights.
Robinson took the gamesmanship a step further Tuesday when he asked Tschida to inspect Donnelly's glove. After a discussion that lasted a few minutes and included the entire four-man umpiring crew, Donnelly was ejected. As the pitcher walked off the field, Scioscia turned back toward the visitor's dugout and said something to Robinson, who took exception and the mild fracas was on.
"We weren't making a lunch date," Scioscia said.
Scioscia returned the favor when he asked umpires to check the glove of Gary Majewski, but the Nationals reliever continued when the inspection was clean. He said he'll be out to check the Nationals pitchers further but added it will detract from the game.
"It is a fine line," Scioscia said. "You're going to have to go out and undress every pitcher. You're going to have to have them go through metal detectors every time they pitch. They're going to have to be strip-searched."
Robinson said he took that as a threat.
"I lost a lot of respect for Mike tonight as a person and as a manager," Robinson said. "There is nothing he can say to me now. I don't even want him to come close to me or try to apologize. If he even thought about it, I will not accept it."
Prior to the game being turned upside-down by Pine Tar-gate, the Angels had built a 3-1 lead on a solid start by Santana and some clutch two-out hitting.
Santana retired the first eight batters before allowing a two-out single to Cristian Guzman, who was caught stealing to end the third. Santana allowed a pair of walks in the fourth, but did not give up another single until Ryan Church hit a two-out roller down the third base line in the sixth.
That began a string of three straight hits that culminated with Nick Johnson's two-out RBI single to break a streak of 14 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings by Santana. Santana allowed one run on four hits and four walks over 6 1/3 innings for a no-decision. He also struck out seven.
Darin Erstad broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single to left off Nationals starter Livan Hernandez that scored Orlando Cabrera. Vladimir Guerrero followed with a booming double that hit off the top of the wall in center to drive in Erstad for a two-run Angels lead.
Erstad continued with the hot hand at the plate, extending his hitting streak to 15 games to tie a career high. The Angels first baseman went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored and is hitting .383 during the streak.
Bengie Molina hit an RBI single to center off Hernandez to give the Angels a 1-0 lead in the fifth.