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GunkWatch: We’ve Gunk-Beef On The Diamond

Lucas Giolito looks bummed to have given up a big homer.
Justin K. Aller/Getty

Turns out the chance to catch a glimpse of an enraged pitcher’s underpants isn’t the only unintended delight of baseball’s new campaign of sticky-stuff enforcement. A suddenly very conspicuously gunk-free sport supplies batters with a rich new vein of smack-talking opportunities. Sock a big dinger off a guy against whom you’ve had very little past success, and now you’ve done more than pretty up the scoreboard—now you have proven, once and for all, that he never could’ve owned you so thoroughly without fingers coated in goo. Not so tough without your Spider Tack, are you?

This was the angle taken by Twins third baseman and noted chirper Josh Donaldson Tuesday night, after he mashed a first-inning, two-run dong off of White Sox starter Lucas Giolito. Donaldson—whose spin-rate trolling of Gerrit Cole culminated with Cole’s weird Zoom conference brain glitch earlier in the month—came into the game 1-for-8 lifetime against Giolito. Giolito, who has not been one of baseball’s real spin freaks, nevertheless has seen a huge drop in RPM across his various pitches as MLB ramped up its new protocols: the four-seamer he threw Tuesday was on average about 166 RPM down from its year-to-date average, and his slider and curveball saw even more dramatic drops. But Giolito for the most part works off a devastating changeup, which is a low-RPM pitch to begin with, so even with his secondary stuff losing some zip his overall performance has mostly been stable, and fine. It will not surprise you to learn that none of this mattered too much to Donaldson, who very openly gloated to his teammates following his home run that this is how it goes when Giolito can’t throw a commanding oozeball:

A good own! Unfortunately for Donaldson, the rest of the game happened, and the results do not support his hypothesis: Giolito settled down and breezed through six-plus innings, including a couple uneventful outs from Donaldson, and collected the win. The beef did not end there; Giolito was asked about Donaldson’s antics after the game and delivered a spicy own in return, calling Donaldson “a fucking pest” and pointing at the scoreboard:

There is simply no point denying it: Midsummer baseball is so far significantly more interesting in the era of sticky-stuff enforcement. We haven’t even gotten to the tantalizingly possible future when strikeouts tail way off and offense rebounds and the game moves perceptibly away from this current era of true outcomes and dismal monotony. But it is already more fun! By haphazardly rushing these protocols into action mid-season, baseball has introduced the furious pants-unbuckling and a new ultra-potent form of trash-talk, and hit upon a more interesting version of itself. MLB is only ever capable of screwing up, but at least just this once they’ve stumbled their way into an improvement.

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