Blanton struck out three batters in the first two innings and four of the first eight men he faced, allowing a pair of singles but no real threats. He flashed an impressive slider with sharp movement, striking out both Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford on the pitch.
The movement, combined with a visible discoloration on the top of the bill of Blanton's cap, gave the Rays reason to try to put two-and-two together. Television close-ups of Blanton revealed some sort of dark spot on the cap. A similar spot was visible on the bill of Blanton's cap during the National League Championship Series.
Rays manager Joe Maddon told home-plate umpire Tom Hallion at the end of the second inning that he believed Blanton had pine tar on his hat. Hallion replied to Maddon that he would check the ball, and if he found a foreign substance on the ball, he would proceed accordingly.
"We did notice," Maddon said after the game. "It was rather dark. I did bring it to [the umpires'] attention. Quite frankly, I did. I asked them to watch it and be vigilant about it. Nothing happened, obviously, but I was concerned about that early on."
According to Mike Port, Major League Baseball's vice president of umpiring, the request was essentially the end of the issue. Hallion kept an eye on the ball and on Blanton, and found nothing suspicious.
"They had noted something on the top of Blanton's cap and just asked Tom Hallion to keep an eye on how Blanton went about things and to keep an eye on the baseballs, also," Port said. "Hallion said that he would check the baseballs, and if there was any reason for further investigation, that he'd stay on top of it and take things from there, and Maddon was fine with that."
Blanton pitched the remainder of the game without incident. He lasted into the seventh inning, allowing two runs. He and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel laughed off the situation, explaining that the smudge simply consists of the dirt that accumulates over a long season.
"It's nothing," Blanton said. "They rub the balls up with whatever they rub them up with, and you rub it up and get it on your hand. I'm constantly trying to get moisture, and just touch my hat. It's nothing sticky. Anybody can go touch it. It's basically just dirt from the ball that gets ... over time, over so many starts, I don't change my hat. It just gets rubbed on the hat."
Manuel even offered up his own cap, which had a similar but lighter spot, during the postgame news conference.
"Actually I didn't know what [Maddon] was talking to the umpire about," Manuel said. "But if you look at my hat, see right there, it's got the same kind of stuff he's talking about. That right there is the fact that I haven't changed hats all year."
Numerous Rays players, including Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist said after the game that they had no idea there was any issue with Blanton's cap.
According to Major League rule 8.02(a)(1), the pitcher may not "apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." In Hallion's estimation, Blanton never did that.
"Watching Blanton, he was going to his cap," Port said. "I don't think, in my estimation, as a spectator, I don't feel there was anything untoward because I noticed almost a nervous habit -- he was going to his cap all the time. I can only guess it was normal smudging. But, suffice it to say that even after Joe Maddon talking with Tom Hallion about keeping an eye on the situation, Tom didn't detect anything as far as action on the baseball or any substance on the baseball."
The incident was somewhat reminiscent of Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, when television cameras appeared to show some sort of foreign substance on the hand of Tigers left-hander Kenny Rogers. However, the Cardinals never asked the umpiring crew to inspect Rogers.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less