Mets-Nationals series off after positive COVID-19 tests


WASHINGTON — The entire season-opening three-game series between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets was called off on Friday because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the 2019 World Series champions, who had four players test positive and another five quarantining after contact tracing.

The Nationals announced the postponement of games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at their stadium. That news came a day after Thursday night’s opener was scratched just hours before it was supposed to begin with Max Scherzer pitching for the Nationals against Jacob deGrom of the Mets in a matchup between the recipients of a combined five Cy Young Awards.

“We’re in crisis management mode,” Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said in a video call with reporters Friday.

More than a third of the 26-man roster submitted for opening day is affected by the outbreak and wouldn’t be able to play at this point. Rizzo said players who didn’t make the team will get called up from the Nationals’ training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“Our depth is going to have to shine,” the GM said.

A total of four players have tested positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus – including one Rizzo said Thursday was considered merely a “likely positive” – and another five are under quarantine after contact tracing determined they potentially could have been exposed, too. A staff member is also in quarantine.

Rizzo has not identified any of the players involved – and said he will not.

The Nationals did not report a single positive COVID-19 test throughout their six-week spring training camp that ended at the start of this week. The team flew from Florida to Washington on Monday; the first positive of the current outbreak came from testing that day.

“A virus is a virus. It’s very contagious. So I think it could happen in many, many different ways. I don’t think it’s a breach of protocol or inadequate protocols,” Rizzo said. “But it’s something that happened. We’re going to try to find out how it happened and investigate it and see if we can stop it from happening again.”

Major League Baseball and the players’ union issued a testing update Friday, saying there were four new positive tests – three players and one staff member – from the 14,354 tests administered over the past week across all of the sport, a 0.03% rate.

One of Washington’s players had a fever, according to Rizzo, but others involved were not showing symptoms.

“The player with the fever is doing fine. He’s feeling much better. Close to normal,” he said. “And the other players feel fine.”

Washington’s next scheduled game would be Monday at Nationals Park against the NL East rival Atlanta Braves, and Rizzo said he expects Scherzer to start.

“We are planning to play Monday,” Rizzo said. “That’s our plan. Although this is a day-by-day thing.”

He wants the players who aren’t being isolated to be able to work out at Nationals Park before competing, perhaps as soon as Saturday, if MLB allows.

“You can’t just go from a dead stop in this postponement to ramping up to play the Atlanta Braves and not expect (there) to be injuries,” Rizzo said.

“But these other players, it’s just hard to have them sitting and playing video games or whatever for two or three days and then to ramp up again. To me, it’s a safety issue and we’ve got to get these guys’ blood flowing,” he said. “We’ve got to get them moving around so they don’t go into the season going from zero to 100 miles an hour without preparation for the last couple of days.”

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.