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And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 6, Rays 2; Yankees 5, Rays 1: The Yankees swept a big doubleheader against their division rival and that’s super important, blah, blah, blah, but everyone is gonna remember this for Aaron Boone’s over-the-top profane rant against rookie home plate umpire Brennan Miller in Game 1.

It came after Brett Gardner struck out on a 1-2 pitch that, nah, wasn’t a strike, and after an earlier questionable call on a pitch to Aaron Judge. Gardner went back and started smashing his bat around the dugout pretty good and Boone jawed at Miller and got ejected. After the ejection he went out to give Miller what-for:

If you can’t read lips, Boone said “my guys are f***ing savages in that f***ing box and you’re having a piece of s**t start. I feel bad for you. But f***ing get better. That guy is a good pitcher. But our guys are f***ing savages in that box. Our guys are savages in the f***ing box. Tighten it up right now, OK? Tighten this s**t up.

I’m not sure that that really holds up as a cogent argument — the ump should be calling balls and strikes better even if his guys are, I dunno, missionaries up there too — but that’s not the point, of course. It was just some magical stuff that (a) had the immediate impact of lighting a fire under his team; and (b) will no doubt be a go-to rallying cry/joke/t-shirt slogan for the rest of the year. Indeed, I saw people selling t-shirts online with that slogan before the game was even over. The Internet is amazing sometimes.

Marlins 4, Padres 3: Brian Anderson doubled home the winning run in the ninth to give Miami its first walkoff win of the season. That was a big hit on a night when Marlins batters constantly failed with runners in scoring position but they were in a position to win thanks to Marlins pitchers who struck out 15 Padres batters. They took two of three from San Diego

Phillies 7, Dodgers 6: Philly got to the soft underbelly of the mighty Dodgers — the bullpen — and scored four runs off of three L.A. relievers in the seventh inning. Bryce Harper‘s RBI single that inning tied things up and Rhys Hoskins‘ two-run single gave Philly a two-run lead. Harper has been on fire of late. He went 6-for-13 with three doubles, a homer and seven driven in in the four-game set against L.A. and  is hitting .313/.404/.521 with ten driven in in 13 games in July.

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 0: Chris Sale had an excellent outing, tossing six shutout innings while striking out 12. He allowed two hits and two relievers who followed him allowed zero hits in the final three frames. Meanwhile, Rafael Devers and Mookie Betts each hit homers. Devers’ was a three-run shot. Devers has feasted on Blue Jays pitching this year. The AP notes that he has 28 RBI against the Blue Jays in 2019. It’s the most runs batted in for any player against a single opponent in one season since Gary Sheffield drove in 28 runs against the Orioles in 2005. Devers has three more games against Toronto in 2019.

Royals 6, White Sox 5: Jorge Soler hit a two-run homer, Billy Hamilton hit a two-run single and Cheslor Cuthbert had three hits as Kansas City sweept the four-game set and took its sixth of seven games.

Indians 6, Tigers 3: Cleveland keeps rolling. Trevor Bauer struck out ten while working into the seventh, Jordan Luplow and Jose Ramírez each hit two-run homers with Ramírez knocking in three in all. The Indians have won 11 straight games over the toothless Tigers this season.

Cardinals 7, Reds 4: The Reds took a 3-0 lead but the Cards tied it up ad then Tommy Edman hit a grand slam that broke that 3-3 tie. The Cards have won five of six. The Reds have stumbled out of the gate in the second half and have gone from at least nominal contention in the bunched-up Central to eight games back. That was mildly fun while it lasted.

Nationals 13, Braves 4: Stephen Strasburg had himself a game, hitting a three-run home run to cap off an eight-run third inning for the Nats and then adding a two-run single later on. It wasn’t his greatest day on the mound — he allowed three runs and couldn’t get out of the sixth — but his arm didn’t need to carry the day when his bat was doing all that. Víctor Robles and Brian Dozier each drove in a couple as Washington routed Atlanta and pulled to within five and a half in the East.

Twins 6, Athletics 3: Eddie Rosario hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning and Mitch Garver and C.J. Cron each went deep after him to pad the lead and to stop the A’s five-game winning streak. Kyle Gibson allowed three over seven innings to pick up his ninth win. And here’s a weird thing:

[Athletics starer Mike] Fiers threw only 89 pitches, but the heat factored into manager Bob Melvin’s decision to remove him. Fiers also had the misfortune of glancing at the scoreboard and seeing Gibson’s pitch count of 106, mistakenly believing it was his.

“Mentally, it crushed me,” Fiers said.

We’re all victims of whatever it is our minds do to us, I suppose.

Astros 6, Angels 2: Alex Bregman and George Springer homered while Wade Miley pitched two-run ball into the sixth inning as the Astros earn a series split from the Angels. Springer had four home runs in the four-game series. Mike Trout returned to action L.A. but went 1-for-4 in DH duty.

Brewers 5, Diamondbacks 1: Zach Davies allowed only one run on five hits over seven innings. Dbacks starter Merrill Kelley was even better, line score-wise, allowing one run on three hits and striking out six in his seven innings of work. Milwaukee got to Yoan López in the eighth, however, plating three, and then Ryan Braun homered in the ninth. Lorenzo Cain robbed a homer too, on what was probably the catch of the day yesterday:

Giants 3, Mets 2: The Mets scored one in the first, the Giants scored one in the fourth and it stayed a 1-1 game for 11 more innings. Things heated up in the 16th, though, with a Pete Alonso homer putting the Mets up 2-1. Chris Mazza could not lock it down for New York, though, giving up a leadoff double to Alex Dickerson, an RBI double to Brandon Crawford which tied it up, hit a batter, gave up a single that loaded the bases and then allowed Donovan Solano to smack a walkoff RBI single for the Giants win. Silver lining from the Mets is that they got eight shutout innings from their bullpen. Quantity ain’t everything, though, I suppose.

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 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.