Boston’s Martín Pérez watches as Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel Jr. rounds the bases after hitting a home run – one of eight home runs surrendered by Red Sox pitchers Sunday in an 18-4 loss.  Steven Senne/Associated Press

This is a sticky situation, to say the least.

Baseball is dealing with its latest cheating controversy, and is about to clamp down on the use of sticky substances to increase pitching performances. This controversy centers around Spider Tack, a substance created to help competitors in the World’s Strongest Man get a better grip on the heavy stones they lift.

Now, it’s being used to get a better grip on the baseball, and to snap off pitches with dramatically improved spin rate. Statcast technology allows us to measure spin rate, and Major League Baseball suddenly realized that things were spinning out of control.

With the crackdown imminent, the overseers of baseball are hoping pitchers will clean things up before penalties are levied. Some think they have, and believe it’s why we’ve seen offense on the rise over the past two weeks.

All of this, of course, is reminiscent of the steroid scandal baseball dealt with 20 years ago. Power was at an all-time high, and pitchers couldn’t keep up. For the first two months of this season the tables turned and offense was at a 40-year low.

That seems to be changing in a hurry. This weekend the Blue Jays scored 30 runs in the first three games against the Sox, belting out 21 extra-base hits. On Sunday the Blue Jays hit eight home runs – the most ever by a Red Sox opponent at Fenway – and beat Boston 18-4.

Starter Martín Pérez gave up five earned runs, recording just four outs. It was his second straight start of two or fewer innings, and after Sunday’s debacle he was asked if his struggles had anything to do with the clampdown on substances.

“I’m not a cheater pitcher,” Pérez said. “I’ve been around for a long time and I don’t use that kind of stuff. I just go out there and compete with what I’ve got out there. I don’t put anything on my arm. I don’t put anything on my glove.”

In the eight previous games heading into Monday night’s contest, Red Sox starters had an ERA over 9.00. The timing of those struggles will lead to more questions about illegal substances. Those questions won’t stop until the pitching improves.

“We talked to the guys from spring training on,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “We had another meeting last week. They know what’s going on. They know what the rules are and what they have to follow, and no, I don’t think it’s having any impact on us right now.”

Back in the steroid era it was safe to assume just about “everyone” was doing it. And as power numbers went down we could safely assume that was the result of the crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs.

We are at a point in the game where a pitcher is going to be placed under suspicion anytime he struggles. Was he using substances before? Is he struggling now because he can’t? That is unfair to any one pitcher. Like in the steroid era, it might be safe to assume everyone is doing it … but it is unfair to point at one individual player and accuse him of using illegal substances. Careers are on the line.

For the Red Sox, the season is on the line. Saturday and Sunday felt a lot like 2020, when Boston posted the highest ERA in franchise history. No one wants to experience those feelings again. Is this a regression to the mean? Are we seeing Sox pitchers return to a painful level? Or is it the price of facing the high-powered offense of Toronto on the heels of a strong-hitting Houston team in the midst of 17 games in 17 days?

There’s no way to know for sure, but we do know this: Red Sox pitchers will be facing more scrutiny than they have in years.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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