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And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cardinals 2, Pirates 1: Dexter Fowler homer. Josh Bell homer. Dexter Fowler homer. Advantage: Cardinals.

Cubs 7, Brewers 4: Addison Russell hit a walkoff three-run homer off of Neftali Feliz to cap a four-run ninth inning and the Cubs comeback from a three-run deficit. Earlier in the inning Kris Bryant had singled in Jon Jay to tie things up. Russell is the marquee hero, but there was some low-key heroism from the Cubs bullpen, with Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara and Wade Davis combining for four scoreless innings. That made up for Kyle Hendricks‘ shaky start and allowed the Cubs to remain within comeback range.

Athletics 9, Rangers 1: The A’s jumped on Martin Perez four four in the first and it wasn’t a contest after that. Khris Davis hit his seventh homer of the young season. He hits well at home, and he was asked about life at the Coliseum after the game:

“I like coming to this ballpark. It’s a grungy stadium, but I don’t need the fancy art, high-tech stadium to perform. I just go out there and play.”

Has anyone ever described Davis as a gritty or a blue collar or a lunch bucket-type player? Because that’s the kind of quote that gets you labeled that.

Mariners 10, Marlins 5: Mitch Haniger had three hits, reached base five times and drove in four. The Mariners right fielder now has a 13-game hitting streak. The Marlins right fielder, however, got all the attention. And for good reason.

Yankees 9, White Sox 1: Starlin Castro drove in three but everyone was talking about the one run Aaron Judge drove in. On a long, long homer. Nearly 450 feet. That kid is strong.

Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0: Francisco Liriano and three relievers combine to shut out the Sox. Defense was just as much a liability as the bats were for Boston, as all three of the Jays’ runs were unearned thanks to a throwing error by Pablo Sandoval. and a fielding error by Mitch Moreland in the second inning which set up RBI singles from Darwin Barney and Ezequiel Carrera.

Orioles 2, Reds 0: Ubaldo Jimenez continues to be one of the more baffling and frustrating pitchers in baseball. He gave up five runs in his first start of the year and five runs in his second but here tosses shutout ball into the eighth, allowing only two hits. Reds rookie Amir Garrett continued to shine in a losing effort, striking out 12 in seven innings and allowing only two runs. This one was done in a crisp two hours twenty-eight minutes.

Mets 5, Phillies 4: The Mets break a four-game losing streak thanks to the heroics of Jay Bruce, who didn’t bring the Mets down, homering twice and driving in all five of the Mets’ runs. The first homer brought the Mets back from behind and the second one broke a tie and gave them the lead for good.

Rays 8, Tigers 7: An ugly game ends with an ugly play, as Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias allowed the tying and winning runs to score due to a throwing error while trying to turn what should’ve been a game-ending double play.  Iglesias was run into and threw off balance on the play, but after the game Brad Ausmus said “that double play gets turned nine times out of 10” and that it was just bad luck.

Nationals 14, Braves 4: Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each hit grand slams. Earlier in the game Harper hit a solo homer too. Harper finished 4-for-4 with a walk, a single, a double, and the two homers. Zimmerman went 3-for-5 with two singles and the slam. Mercy.

Astros 5, Angels 1: Every preview for the Astros this season was required, by law, to mention that Houston’s chances hinged on Dallas Keuchel returning to ace-like form. So far this year he has been an ace. He’s gone exactly seven innings in each of his first four starts. He allowed zero runs in his first start of the year and one each in the next three, including this one. He’s 3-0 with 22 strikeouts and only six walks in 28 innings. It’s no accident that the Astros are tied for the most wins in baseball.

Royals 2, Giants 0: Madison Bumgarner in Kansas City against the Royals brings back memories of 2014. And he did pitch well, allowing only one run in six innings. He just didn’t pitch as well as Jason Vargas, who shut the Giants out and struck out nine over seven. Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera handled the final two innings, holding the Giants hitless in the final two frames. The Royals scored their runs on a couple of singles.

Dodgers 4, Rockies 2: Clayton Kershaw struck out ten and allowed two runs in seven innings of work. Kershaw was pissed too, because he had to wait to start the first inning as Rockies starter Tyler Anderson was late walking out of the bullpen from pregame warmups and to the Rockies dugout. Kershaw on the delay:

“That was one of the more disrespectful things I’ve been a part of in a game,” Kershaw said. “Really didn’t appreciate that. The game starts at 7:10. It’s started at 7:10 here for a long time. Go around or finish earlier but that wasn’t appreciated, for sure. I’m not going to say any more or I’ll get in trouble.”

I can think of a few more disrespectful things in baseball history, but I suppose Kershaw gets the benefit of the doubt as maybe he wasn’t part of any of ’em.

Padres 1, Diamondbacks 0: The good news for the Dbacks? Zack Greinke was fantastic, allowing only one run on five hits in eight innings. The bad news? He wasn’t as good as Jhoulys Chacin, who allowed three hits and zero runs in that same span. Greinke’s only mistake was a solo homer allowed to Erick Aybar in the bottom of the eighth. This game lasted only two hours and thirteen minutes. It’s like Greg Maddux came out of retirement.

Indians vs. Twins — POSTPONED:

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down
oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town
this town has dragged you down

And everybody’s got to live their life
and God knows I’ve got to live mine
God knows I’ve got to live mine

William, William it was really nothing
William, William it was really nothing
it was your life

Baseball in Arizona as early as May is pure madness

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UPDATE: Major League Baseball has released the following statement in the wake of Jeff Passan’s ESPN report overnight, discussed in more detail below:

MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so.  While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.  While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.  The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.

9:04 AM: Overnight Jeff Passan on ESPN followed up on the Associated Press’ report of preliminary talks between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA about the potential resumption of the baseball season. The plan, which is nothing short of radical — and nothing short of highly-fraught — would potentially have baseball resume as early as next month. June at the latest.

The talks are highly preliminary at the moment, but Passan describes the following topics that are at least on the table:

  • All 30 teams would play games at stadiums with no fans in the Phoenix area, including at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and various spring training facilities;
  • “Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium;”
  • Teams would carry significantly expanded rosters to (a) allow for players who get sick or who test positive for COVID-19 to be easily replaced; and (b) to allow for ample rest give that games would be played in the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert;
  • There would be an electronic strike zone to allow the umpires to keep their distance;
  • There would be no mound visits;
  • There would be seven-inning doubleheaders to allow them to schedule as many games as possible;
  • On-field microphones would be used by players, “as an added bonus for TV viewers;”
  • Players and team personnel would sit in the empty stands 6 feet apart instead of in a dugout to ensure proper social distancing.

There’s a lot to chew on there, but I want to hold off a moment on that chewing. I want to resist the urge to do what we usually do when some radical new idea about sports comes up such as a rules change, the implementation of a new technology, divisional realignment or playoff expansion, or something to that effect. I’ll get to that stuff in a moment, but for now I want to take several steps back and leave the specifics of those things aside and ask a question:

What in the hell are we doing here?

Don’t get me wrong: I miss baseball. Everyone misses baseball. Setting aside the financial incentives at play for the moment, MLB exists to put on baseball games and they want baseball games. Players live to play baseball and they want to play. If we could snap our fingers and make that happen, God, it would be wonderful. If we could play baseball or any other pro sport right now, it would definitely be a pick-me-up for a large part of the nation.

This plan, however, is patently absurd. Less in form than in its very conception and existence.

How, in light of all that is going on at the moment, is this at all justifiable?  How is the level of necessary logistical support to pull this off — the transportation, the isolation, and the prioritization of a few thousand baseball people for testing and attendant medical care if someone gets sick — close to rational?

Just yesterday a member of New York’s city council announced that they will be burying the city’s many dead in temporary mass graves in public parks, ten to a row, and that prison inmates will be offered $6/hour to dig the graves. The governor of Illinois said last night that states are bidding against one another to try to obtain desperately needed medical supplies to treat the national surge in the sick and the dying. Is that what everyone is going through right now? No, of course not. Most of us are bored at home. But that — the tens of thousands of dead and counting and the overarching fear and anxiety which is affecting the populace — provides the national backdrop against which these negotiations are occurring. To call it “incongruous” to be talking about a far-sooner-than-expected return of baseball is a monumental understatement.

Yes, sports have, traditionally, served as a rallying point for the nation. But this is not a war. This is not a natural disaster. This is not a situation where our defiant assertion of normality will help pull us through. We do not need a Winston Churchill figure and, in fact, attempting to be a Churchill figure, we have unfortunately learned, is precisely the opposite of sensible. This is not a situation where keeping calm, carrying on, and acting resolute in the face of peril will help us prevail. A viral pandemic is not impressed with our composure, our resolve or our symbolic gestures such as playing baseball in the face of what can only be described as horror. The only thing we can do in the face of this horror is to take sensible precautions. To collectively sacrifice. To collectively appreciate the risks, stay at home, ride it out, and provide every possible bit of support available to the sick, to those who treat the sick, and to the millions of people displaced, economically and psychologically, by the crisis.

There nothing sensible about this nascent plan currently being floated by Major League Baseball, however. And make no mistake: it is being floated. With a purpose.

This report comes two days after President Trump held a conference call with Rob Manfred and all of the other major sports league commissioners in which he expressed his desire for sports to return as soon as possible. It is in his and his administration’s political interests for that to happen. As it would be, to be fair, in the interests of any president. There was a reason FDR pressed baseball to play on as usual during World War II. My political leanings are pretty plain to those who have read this website for any length of time, but I do not begrudge Trump this impulse, in and of itself. As a leader there are very good reasons for him to want the public to be happy and entertained and, as I said, we would all love to be happy and entertained at the moment.

President Trump, however, has been demonstrably shown to have made countless missteps in his handling of the pandemic thus far. Missteps that, in at least one case, appears to be born by personal financial interest. I simply do not trust his judgment in pressing professional sports back into service and I do not trust Rob Manfred to sensibly push back against political pressure urging him to take what would, clearly, be irresponsible steps in order to make baseball happen the way it is being described in Passan’s column.

And it is irresponsible. Let’s just play this out for 30 seconds:

  • Passan describes a scenario in which players would be isolated for more than four months. Are they supposed to not see their families during all that time? How are they supposed to function under that scenario? Even worse, what if their family members get sick? What if one of their parents die? Is their season over or do they stay in Arizona?
  • No quarantine can be perfect, so there’s a non-trivial chance that despite these efforts someone gets sick. Passan mentioned that they would be removed from their teams and put into isolation. That may be fine for a physically fit 24 year-old, but many managers, coaches, trainers and clubhouse attendants are older and, as such, at far greater risk of complications if they get sick. Some players are too. Adam Duvall is Type 1 diabetic. Kenley Jansen just had heart surgery. Carlos Carrasco and Trey Mancini are cancer patients. What about them?
  • If players are quarantined in hotels or resorts, there are hundreds if not thousands of people cooking for them, cleaning for them, doing the laundry and stuff like that. They all have to be isolated too, no? Just as a virus propagates itself exponentially, so to does the support necessary to put on Major League Baseball games, even in these radically different circumstances.

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many other things that infectious disease experts and people who are more involved in the details of putting on games under these circumstances could imagine. Yes, I understand that the idea behind flattening the curve and slowing the spread is not to prevent every single person from becoming infected. That’s impossible. But at the same time, Major League Baseball should not be creating conditions under which a highly infectious disease has an entryway into a in environment where 26 guys and a staff x 30 teams all share close quarters as a rule.

That’s especially true when we look at the benefits of all of this. Benefits which, as Passan freely notes in his article, are primary financial. Or, as noted above, may have some broadly inspirational or symbolic significance. And that’s before you start to assess the actual quality and integrity of the baseball which would be played under these extreme circumstances.

Could they figure this all out? Maybe. Will they do it? I don’t know. It might actually happen. Nothing would surprise me at this point. But even attempting it seems profoundly incongruous to what’s happening in the real world. And profoundly misguided.

And one more thing.

To the extent this misguided plan gains traction, it will be because a lot of us — particularly people in my industry, but fans as well — approach this idea solely through the prism of sports. It will be because, when presented with the idea of a 2020 baseball season in the Arizona Bubble League, we spend more time debating electronic umpiring and whether East Coast Bias is the reason the Yankees and Red Sox get more games in air-conditioned Chase Field and that Oakland A’s have to play more games in 105 degree heat at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa. It will because we thought of all of this as great fun or a cool intellectual and competitive exercise and judged it, as we judge so much else in sports, only on those terms.

We need to think bigger than that. We need to think smarter than that. We need to set aside our laser-focus on sports as the be-all and end-all, set aside our strong and understandable desire to have sports return as soon as possible and treat the current situation with the gravity it deserves.

And this plan ain’t it, jack.