SAN FRANCISCO -- Wednesday at AT&T Park, we saw a good example -- perhaps the perfect example -- of why baseball needs no performance enhancing drugs to be vastly entertaining.
Here was Toronto's R.A. Dickey, unleashing his knuckleball at 63 mph and making Giants hitters flail or flummox themselves into a 4-0 loss.
Here was the Giants' Barry Zito with his state-of-the-teardrop 78 mph curveball, stifling the Blue Jays in all but one of his six innings -- a weird fifth when he was partially undone by three stolen bases and a slap-bunt double by Dickey.
Neither pitcher has been connected to steroid or synthetic-testosterone rumors. Power pitchers, they are not. Clean pitchers, they surely are.
Yet like all other major league players, their integrity was sullied once more this week by another PED scandal. Supposedly, MLB is ready to unload a raft of 100-game suspensions on 20 or more players whose names are connected to a sleazy clinic in Miami.
After the game, I asked Zito if he ever gets angry at the continuing parade of violators who keep staining his game. Zito, in his Zen manner, said he's glad baseball brings down the PED hammer harder than other sports (the NFL's standard PED suspension lasts four games). But he can't allow himself to be counterproductively incensed -- or even surprised -- that certain MLB players still cheat.
"I don't know everybody's individual situation," Zito said. "You know, some people are always going to try and get an edge. But I'm all for accountability. I think it's a good thing to try and get it out of the game."
Zito's manager, Bruce Bochy, used a little stronger language about the potential 100-game bans.
"I always thought they should be a little stricter to keep these players from trying to beat the system," he said. "I'm all for stiffer penalties."
Buckle up, then. If the ESPN reports are correct, this summer could bring the largest and most awesome wave of penalties, ever. Some of the game's biggest names -- including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez -- could sit down for a very long time.
It's all happening because a gentleman named Tony Bosch, who operated the Biogenesis clinic, allegedly has cut a deal with the MLB police. Bosch says he will name names and outline the various substances that he provided to almost two dozen major leaguers.
Some of those players, such as A's pitcher Bartolo Colon, have served previous suspensions. But if those players made proven false statements to MLB investigators about their involvement with Bosch, those lies would constitute a second offense under the most recent Joint Drug Agreement between players and owners. Credible testimony from Bosch, combined with Biogenesis lab records, could be devastating.
All banned players can appeal their suspensions and delay punishment. But clearly, MLB plans to sink its teeth into this and not let go. And who knows where that might eventually lead, if the 100-game suspensions don't dissuade cheaters?
The most drastic step would be to adopt the NCAA's approach and punish entire teams by forcing them to "vacate" titles. Under that standard, the Giants' World Series title of 2012 would be "vacated" because they reached the playoffs with the help of a PED user -- Melky Cabrera, who happened to be in the house Wednesday as a member of the Blue Jays.
Of course, it's unlikely MLB would seek to institute such harsh punishment. You know what would be helpful, though? If fans more consistently showed their disdain for unapologetic cheaters. Last summer, Cabrera was suspended for 50 games and left the Giants without an apology to teammates or fans. So whenever Cabrera came to the plate Tuesday or Wednesday, he was booed lustily by the AT&T crowd.
But were the boos for Cabrera's PED crimes? Or for way Cabrera dissed "their" team?
By now, any educated baseball follower should know why PEDs are bad for the game. They pervert statistics. They damage players' long-term health. They are unfair to players who don't use them when cheaters take jobs and/or salaries away from the clean guys.
So this is my humble request for fans everywhere: Keep those boos coming for cheaters who don't apologize and who are repeat offenders. But don't make those boos provincial. Make them into an unswerving statement. Baseball is a great game without artificial enhancement. We saw why Wednesday. If the upcoming suspensions give us more of the same, that's worth some cheers.