Mets-Nationals opener postponed after positive COVID-19 test, tracing

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WASHINGTON — The opening day game between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets was postponed hours before it was scheduled to begin Thursday night because of coronavirus concerns after at least three of the 2019 World Series champions’ players tested positive for COVID-19.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a video conference with reporters that his team also has a fourth player considered a “likely positive.” He did not identify any of the players involved.

“For the most part, the whole team has been – we put them – in lockdown and they’re self-quarantining,” Rizzo said.

He said it was not known when the season-opening game will be made up – other than that it would not be played Friday, originally set up as a day off to allow for a makeup contest if there were an issue with Game 1, such as a rainout.

“It’s a shame that we can’t play today, but we need to stay positive. I’ve talked to a lot of players and my concern is about their health and safety,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “I’ll continue to reach out to them to make sure they’re OK. We’re going to get through this.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been through some bumpy roads. We’ve been there and we’re going to come back from this and we’re going to play baseball.”

Rizzo said one of the players testing positive had a fever, while the others were not displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

On Wednesday, Rizzo announced an initial positive test for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. He said it resulted from testing done Monday, while the Nationals were still in Florida for spring training.

At the time, he said four other players were considered to have been in close contact and were quarantining. Now, two of those players resulted positive after being tested Wednesday and another had an inconclusive sample that is being treated as a likely positive.

Contact tracing was continuing, Rizzo said, to see who else might have been exposed.

The Mets worked out at Nationals Park on Thursday, with pitchers throwing live to hitters.

“It’s unfortunate. There are things that are still happening in the world. To be honest, it wasn’t a surprise. We’ve been in situations like this since last year,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “The health is the No. 1 thing still in the world. We’re taking care of ourselves. Everyone’s taking their mask everywhere. We’re doing everything we need to do.”

The Nationals – who finished tied for last in the NL East in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – were supposed to send Max Scherzer to the mound to face New York’s Jacob deGrom on Thursday in a matchup between pitchers who own a total of five Cy Young Awards.

Rizzo said he was not sure how the team outbreak began.

“I’ve got the utmost confidence that it was not a player breaking protocol. We were very diligent throughout the whole spring training. The day we landed in D.C. was the day we got our first positive,” he said. “It’s only conjecture on what happened and when it happened and we don’t want to get into that. This is a serious business. It’s about people’s health and these players, obviously, they’re very important to me and to our organization.”

The team flight from Florida to Washington after the end of spring training was where there was close contact among players and staff.

Scherzer said he was not on that team flight and traveled separately with his family.

The Nationals – who had planned to have a workout at their stadium on Wednesday, before it was called off because of rain – did not have a single player test positive during their six weeks of spring training camp in West Palm Beach, Florida, according to Rizzo.

He said the team would follow both Major League Baseball and D.C. city protocols regarding quarantining, which could sideline affected players for a week to 10 days.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.