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Today in Baseball History: The game with no fans

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For the past month and a half, we’ve been talking about how they might be playing big league baseball games with no fans. If you’ve been watching the CPBL games from Taiwan, you can see what that looks like in real time. It’s weird to say the least.

Most of you will remember, however, that we have had at least one big league game in recent history with no fans. That came on April 29, 2015, when the Orioles played the White Sox to an empty house at Camden Yards due to a tragedy followed by civil unrest in Baltimore. Let’s take a look back at how all that went down.

On April 12, Baltimore police arrested a 25-year-old man named Freddie Gray. Gray was healthy and fine when they put him into the back of a police van. Between the time he was arrested and when he got to the station, however, Gray sustained injuries to his neck and spinal cord. He fell into a coma and was taken to a hospital where he died seven days later. The story from the Baltimore police about how Gray was injured was implausible and inconsistent. Police brutality and negligence in giving Gray medical attention was seen as the likely explanation, and prosecutors agreed, charging multiple police officers with crimes. In the event, however, none of the officers who were criminally charged were ultimately convicted.

On April 18, protests began and continued for over a week. On April 25 a major protest in downtown Baltimore turned violent, resulting in 34 arrests and injuries to 15 police officers. Gray’s funeral took place on April 27 and, in the aftermath, civil disorder intensified with looting and the burning of couple of businesses. Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency and the Maryland National Guard was deployed to the city. On the night of the 25th the Orioles were playing the Red Sox at Camden Yards. Fans were forced to stay inside Oriole Park during and immediately after the game due to the threat to their safety.

On Monday April 27 and Tuesday April 28 the Orioles games against the Chicago White Sox were postponed. While, in the grand scheme of things, the fate of some baseball games paled in importance to what was going on in the city, it was decided that the business of Major League Baseball had to go on. The problem, however, was that due to the unbalanced schedule, the White Sox were not going to visit Baltimore again in 2015. How would any of these games be played in a manner which did not put fans at risk?

The solution? A game with no fans. It was an eerie scene, televised for all of us to see:

 

It’s even eerier to experience it without the announcers, as the players and the handful of people who had business inside the ballpark did:

 

As you can hear, a few Orioles fans braved the city’s streets and lined up outside the gates, cheering when the Orioles did good things. Otherwise, though, there was mostly silence. It was so quiet in the park that, if you were watching the White Sox’ broadcast feed, you could hear the voice of the Orioles’ announcers bleeding through the walls of the press box, picked up by the WGN microphones. You could hear the sounds of clicks from the media’s cameras in the photo well. At times you could hear the pitchers’ cleats grinding on the mound as they pivoted.

The game itself wasn’t very entertaining. The Orioles shellacked the Sox, 8-2, jumping on Chicago early. There were 15 hits, a couple of errors and sixteen total strikeouts. Normally that kind of line would make for a long and drawn-out game, but this one took a mere two hours and three minutes. To be fair, there were several double plays and a lot of first-pitch swinging — it was a getaway day afternoon game, after all — but it’s rare to see such a short game time for a game in which ten runs were scored.

Some of that was because the in-between inning nonsense was kept to a minimum. There were no kiss-cams, contests, or in-game hosts interviewing centenarians or whatever. Some of it, of course, was just dumb luck. Either way, it made for one of the quicker games of the 2015 season. And for one of baseball’s weirdest games ever.

At least until whatever happens in 2020 goes down. Then it’ll probably seem positively quaint.

 

Also today in baseball history:

1913: The Cincinnati Reds are in Chicago to play the Cubs but they forgot to pack their uniforms, so they’re forced to borrow some from the crosstown White Sox. The Cubs win 7-2.

1931: Wes Ferrell of the Cleveland Indians pitched a 7-0 no-hitter over the St. Louis Browns, whose lineup included his brother Rick, who went 0-for-3. Ferrell also knocked in four runs with a homer and a double. I’d say he was the player of the game.

1934: The Pirates and the Phillies become the last two major league franchises allowed to play home games on Sundays, thanks to Pennsylvania finally repealing its blue laws prohibiting the practice. Not that the state’s odd laws are completely a thing of the past.

1939: Lou Gehrig singles off of Washington Senators pitcher Ken Chase in a game at Yankee Stadium. It’s his 2,721st and last hit. He will play against the Senators the following day and go 0-for-4, and then sit out the Yankees’ next game, on May 2 in Detroit, and never play another game. Gehrig’s 2,721 hits will stand as a Yankees franchise record until Derek Jeter surpasses the total in 2009.

1983: After a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Lee Elia launches into an obscenity-laden tirade that has since become infamous. The biggest reason: he goes after Cubs fans in particular, saying “the [expletives] don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the [expletive] game. They outta go out and get a [expletive] job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a [expletive] living. Eighty-five percent of the [expletive] world is working. The other 15 come out here. A [expletive] playground for the [expletives].” And so on. I’m sure you can Google it and find the audio if you want.

1986: Roger Clemens set a major league record by striking out 20 as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-1. Clemens would match his own record a decade later. Kerry Wood (1998) and Max Scherzer (2016) would later tie it as well.

1987: Andre Dawson, still just beginning his MVP campaign, had five hits and hit for the cycle to lead the Chicago Cubs to an 8-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants. Dawson is in the news again today. He’s a funeral director, and his business is pretty tough these days.

1988: The Baltimore Orioles end their 21-game losing streak with their first victory of the season, beating the White Sox 9-0.

Renfroe slam helps Rays sweep young Blue Jays in 1st round

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The Tampa Bay Rays gathered in front of their dugout and posed for a celebratory team picture they’re hoping will not be the last they take this postseason.

Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam and the top-seeded Rays won a postseason series for the first time in 12 years, overpowering the young Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Wednesday to finish a two-game sweep of their wild-card matchup.

And with a roster featuring just a handful of players who have posted impressive resumes so far, the AL East champs believe they’re nowhere near finished.

“We’ve been confident since Day One. So if we put the our heads down and just do what we’ve been doing and prepare like we’ve been preparing, the sky’s the limit,” winning pitcher Tyler Glasnow said.

Said manager Kevin Cash: “We have very good players first and foremost.”

“I understand the back of the baseball card stuff and some of our guys are not as established,” he said. “What we do have, what makes it formidable is that the entire roster is used to help us win games. We do that consistently during the season and are definitely going to do it in the postseason.”

Renfroe launched the first playoff grand slam in franchise history during a six-run second inning. Glasnow kept Tampa Bay ahead from there, allowing two runs – on a pair of homers by Danny Jansen – in six innings.

Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer off Blue Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu during Tampa Bay’s big inning. Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena also drove in runs as the Rays advanced to the AL Division series against either the New York Yankees or Cleveland Indians.

The next round starts Monday at Petco Park in San Diego. Renfroe is plenty familiar with the stadium – he hit 85 home runs in the previous three years for the Padres before being traded to the Rays last December.

“The opportunity in front of us is where you want to be,” Cash said.

The Rays celebrated with some hugs and handshakes after the final out.

Glasnow, who walked one and struck out eight before a small gathering of family and friends who were allowed to attend the series at Tropicana Field.

Ryu was rocked for a season-high seven runs in 1 2/3 innings, the lefty’s shortest outing of the season for the wild-card Blue Jays.

It was a disappointing finish for Toronto, which overcame a slow start to make a surprising run to its first playoff berth since 2016 with a roster featuring 19 players without previous major league playoff experience, including Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“Great season. I’m proud of my kids to make it to this point,” second-year Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.

“It’s obvious that the Rays are a pretty good team, that’s why they’re picked to go to the World Series,” he said. “In this series, we didn’t hit. We only scored three runs. That’s not enough to beat that team.”

The Rays, who won the opener 3-1 with a nice mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting, had dropped five consecutive multigame postseason series dating to the 2008 World Series.

A year ago, they beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before losing to Houston in the division round – a five-game setback that nevertheless heightened team expectations heading into this season.

Ryu signed with the Blue Jays in free agency last winter after being an All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finishing second in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2019.

The 33-year-old lefty had the AL’s fourth-best ERA this season. And, his career mark of .295 is third-best behind Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Jacob deGrom (2.61) among active pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched.

Ryu’s impressive credentials meant nothing Wednesday.

The Rays began the first inning with three straight hits and scored their first run on Manuel Margot’s one-out single. Ryu escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Willy Adames, however his outing got worse the next inning.

After Zunino’s homer made it 3-0, Tampa Bay loaded the bases again on a double, walk and shortstop Bo Bichette’s second error of the day.

Renfroe, obtained from San Diego in an offseason trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Padres, hit his grand slam into the left field seats to extend the lead to 7-0.

“They were getting hits off all my pitches. I don’t think they were necessarily sitting on one or something like that,” Ryu said through a translator. “I just didn’t have a good game.”

“We have a lot to be proud of, we really do,” Jansen said. “We knocked on the door and next year we’re going to be ready to go through it.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: 1B Rowdy Tellez, who had a pinch-hit single in Game 1 Tuesday, remained out of the starting lineup. He was placed on the 10-day IL on Sept. 9 with a right knee sprain and missed the rest of the regular season.

Rays: INF Yandy Diaz (right hamstring strain) started at third base, his first game since Aug. 31.

UP NEXT

The Rays will play in the AL division round for the sixth time in franchise history, with all of the appearances coming since 2008.

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