WASHINGTON — Before the first pitch was thrown, Stephen Strasburg saw home plate umpire Jeff Nelson walk toward the mound and begin preparing for a pine tar search.
“I thought he was going to check my glove,” Strasburg said.
As it turned out, the ump only wanted to see the ball, which had bounced in the dirt on the throw to second after Strasburg’s final warm-up toss. The Washington Nationals ace was free to work his usual magic, which on Wednesday consisted of 10 strikeouts over seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 3-2 win that stopped a four-game losing streak.
“We kind of had a laugh on the bench,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said. “When the umpire came out, he wanted to look at the ball. Stras was getting ready to undress. … He was ready to take everything off and have them search him.”
Pitchers on both sides were on extra alert one night after Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected for having pine tar in his glove, igniting a skirmish of words between Johnson and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon that carried over into Wednesday.