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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 5, Yankees 4: Both Travis d'Arnaud and Aroldis Chapman done blew up. That’s good for one of ’em, of course. The Yankees took a 4-2 lead into the ninth — with both Rays runs coming on d’Arnaud solo homers — when Kevin Kiermaier reached to lead off the inning and Guillermo Heredia singled right after him. Chapman bore down and struck out two but  d’Arnaud connected with a full-count slider, sending it over the right field fence for his third dinger of the game which made it 5-4. After a quick bottom of the ninth, that was that. What a dang game for d’Arnaud.

Giants 19, Rockies 2: Giants 2, Rockies 1: Brandon Crawford went 5-for-6 with two homers and eight RBI. Mike Yastrzemski went 4-for-6 with a homer and Buster Posey went deep as well. And no, I’m never gonna get used to the fact that there’s a Yastrzemski in the big leagues again. I’m afraid if I acknowledge it I’ll look up and Gerald Ford will be in the White House or something. Or Nixon? Which now makes me think of that show “Life on Mars” that was on several years ago. It was solid as hell. OK, knowing what I know now, if you HAD to drop me back in the 1970s somehow, I think I could hack it pretty well. If it does happen, it’ll definitely because I’m watching Mike Yastrzemski play, I get dizzy and then when my vision focuses it’s Carl and — bammo — it’s 1971 and I’m forced to make my way as a ball writer, out-of-time.

Sorry for the digression. Crawford homered again in the nightcap of the doubleheader and Derek Rodríguez allowed one run over five as the Giants swept. Maybe as a baby step I’m watching Rodriguez pitch, things get blurry and when I focus again I’m watching his dad catch and it’s 1993 all over again? Although, gotta be honest, finding myself in 1993 again is probably more scary for a lot of reasons I’m having a hard time explaining.

Dodgers 16, Phillies 2: Phillies fans like talking about those times they’ve traveled en masse to Washington or someplace and have taken over opposing ballparks, turning road games into home games, more or less. Last night it seems that Dodgers fans — East Coast sleeper agents as opposed to travelers — took over Citizens Bank Ballpark. They had a lot to cheer for, too, as Cody Bellinger went 4-for-6, going deep twice and six Dodgers hitters knocked in at least two runs. Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, allowed one run over six to win his eighth of the year. The Phillies have lost three of four. Feel like I’ve been saying that for a month running or more.

Indians 8, Tigers 6: A big day for multiple homers. In addition to the guys mentioned in the previous highlights, Edwin Enacarnación hit two in a losing cause in that Yankees-Rays game, as did Tyler O’Neill in St. Louis and George Springer for Houston. In this game two guys did it: Jordy Mercer for Detroit and Oscar Mercado for the Tribe. Mercado came into the game in a 1-for-25 skid but turned that around, with his second dong breaking a 5-5 tie in the seventh. Cleveland has won eight in a row against the Tigers and nine of ten on the year. They’re six back of the Twins.

Cardinals 7, Pirates 0: Two two aforementioned Tyler O’Neill homers and his four RBI paced the offense, but Miles Mikolas was the story here, tossing a far more rare complete game shutout, scattering eight hits and striking out three and needing only a cool 100 pitches to do it. After the game, Mikolas said “It’s pretty cool. Does anyone have two [shutouts] this year? I can be tied for the league lead in something. I like that.” Congratulations, Miles, no one has two. You are in a 17-way tie for first place in the big leagues with one shutout. Last year there were 19 guys tied for first place in baseball with one each. Never before 2018, in all of baseball history, had only one shutout led the league in that category, bit it stands a decent chance of being enough once again.

Red Sox 10, Blue Jays 8: Boston jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first thanks to a Michael Chavis grand slam, the Jays made it 5-4, Boston scored five more in the third to make it 10-4 and the Jays pulled to within two late but couldn’t get any closer. After the game Chavis talked about how he was happier that he walked twice than for hitting the grand slam. Guys say that sometimes — coaches and commentators do too — and I always hear it the same way you’d hear some A-student talking about how they like homework or summer reading lists or something. There are no teachers to kiss up to in baseball but I feel like they’re kissing up to the GM or some front office analyst when they do that.  

Reds 6, Cubs 3: Kyle Hendricks allowed two over six and left with the lead, but Curt Casali, the first batter a Cubs reliever faced in the game, homered to lead off the seventh to tie things up. Cincinnati would take the lead on a single, an error and a fielder’s choice later that inning and add two more runs in the eighth to complete the comeback win. Eugenio Suárez and Yasiel Puig homered for Cincinnati. The Reds have won seven of ten from the Cubs this year.

Braves 4, Brewers 2: Max Fried tossed five shutout innings and would’ve gone more if he hadn’t started developing a blister. Freddie Freeman‘s three-run homer in the fourth inning held up, with Austin Riley knocking in a run late for insurance. Atlanta has won five in a row and lead the Nats by seven and a half, which is the second biggest division lead in baseball.

Royals 5, White Sox 2: Kansas City has started the second half in frisky fashion, winning three of four. Here Jakob Junis struck out ten while allowing one run over seven and Nicky Lopez drove in a pair of runs. Junis beat Lucas Giolito, who has owned the Royals over his career, but who hasn’t owned anyone lately. After an eight-game winning streak which upped his record to 10-1, Giolito is 1-3 with a 6.48 ERA in his last five starts.

Angels 9, Astros 6: Albert Pujols picked up the slack for the sore-calfed/benched Mike Trout and had three hits and drove in three. Andrelton Simmons homered as the Halos came back from an early three-run deficit to win their fourth in a row and their seventh of ten. I’d not, in the normal course, say something like “. . . their seventh of ten since the death of Tyler Skaggs,” because it seems just, I dunno, off to say that, but the Angels themselves are saying that, with Kevan Smith saying after the game that “Skaggs is definitely smiling down on us right now,” and lauding the focus and energy of his teammates since his death. Which, hey, you never know how people will react to things. There are certainly worse ways to react to tragedy than pounding baseballs.

Baseball in Arizona as early as May is pure madness

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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 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 — specifics aside; I mean this entire concept of a May-June return to games — 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 has, traditionally, served as a rallying point for the nation, 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 and, in fact, attempting to be a Churchill figure 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.

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.

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.