Musgrove survives umpire’s ear probe as Padres dump Mets out of MLB playoffs

Joe Musgrove brushed off chants of “Cheater!” after a bizarre spot check by umpires on the mound, pitching his hometown San Diego Padres into the next round of the playoffs on Sunday night with seven innings of one-hit ball in a 6-0 victory over the New York Mets.

The umpires checked the pitcher for illegal substances in the sixth inning – including a close look at his ears – after a request from Mets manager Buck Showalter. Nothing was found and the game continued.

“I mean I get it dude,” Musgrove said after the game. “They’re on their last leg, they’re desperate. They’re doing everything they can to get me out of the game at that point. It is what it is.”

Umpires now routinely check pitchers’ gloves, hats and fingers for sticky stuff after innings, although spot checks like the one requested by Showalter remain unusual.

“All Buck requested was for us to check for an illegal substance, and that’s what the crew did,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez said. “We checked him and we found nothing.”

Musgrove said the incident had helped rather than hindered him. “It motivated me a little bit,” Musgrove said. “It fired me up.”

Showalter said his decision to ask for the inspection was part of the game.

“We have privy to a lot of things. I love him as a pitcher always have,” Showalter said. “I’m not getting into a lot of things … I don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. I’ve got to do what’s best for the New York Mets and our players.”

The bizarre inspection lit up social media, with some cracking it looked like Marquez was going to pull a quarter from Musgrove’s ear.

Milwaukee outfielder Andrew McCutchen had a stranger theory. “I guarantee Musgrove has Red Hot on his ears,” McCutchen tweeted. “Pitchers use it as mechanism to stay locked in during games. It burns like crazy and IDK why some guys thinks it helps them but in no way is it ‘sticky.’ Buck is smart tho. Could be trying to just throw him off.”

The chants of cheater were personal for Musgrove. He was a member of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series champions that were found by Major League Baseball to have stolen signs. The Astros’ cheating scandal rocked the sport. Musgrove told the Associated Press this month he feels uncomfortable wearing his championship ring and wants “one that feels earned” with his hometown Padres.

Elsewhere on the night, Trent Grisham hit an RBI single and made a terrific catch in center field that helped the Padres take the best-of-three National League wildcard series 2-1. Austin Nola and Juan Soto each had a two-run single.

San Diego advanced to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-five Division Series beginning Tuesday – ensuring the Padres will play in front of their home fans in the postseason for the first time in 16 years when they return to Petco Park for Game 3.

“We know that. We would love for them to be able to see some postseason games,” manager Bob Melvin said Sunday afternoon. “To an extent, we feel like they’re a part of us.”

It was the fifth time the Padres have won a playoff series. They took a first-round matchup against St. Louis in their own ballpark with no fans permitted after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before being swept in the Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Dodgers.

For the Mets, a scintillating season ended with a whimper at home in front of empty seats. Baseball’s biggest spenders won 101 games – the second-most in franchise history – but were unable to hold off Atlanta in the NL East after sitting atop the division for all but six days.

New York were up by 10.5 games on 1 June and seven on 10 August before finally ceding control last weekend. The defending World Series champions snatched away their fifth consecutive division title and a first-round playoff bye on the strength of a head-to-head sweep in Atlanta – and the Mets never fully recovered.

New York ace Max Scherzer was rocked in a Game 1 loss to San Diego and, after the Mets won Game 2 behind Jacob deGrom to stave off elimination, they mustered almost nothing against Musgrove.

No 3 starter Chris Bassitt lasted just four innings, giving up three runs and three hits with three costly walks to batters near the bottom of the order.

Pete Alonso‘s leadoff single in the fifth and Starling Marte‘s walk to start the seventh were the only baserunners permitted by Musgrove in his first career postseason start.

Robert Suarez and Josh Hader finished the one-hitter.