Dusty Baker back after missing 5 games with COVID-19

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker returned Thursday for the finale of a series against the Texas Rangers following a five-game absence after testing positive for COVID-19.

The 73-year-old Baker said he never felt bad and had only mild symptoms that he attributed to seasonal allergies before testing positive.

“I’m very fortunate that I had both my shots and the two boosters,” he said. “So, I’m really hoping that everybody goes and gets the shots and boosters, because if you do get (COVID-19) hopefully it’s mild like mine was.”

Baker tested positive on Friday when the team was on a road trip in Cleveland. He isolated in his hotel room all weekend and did not return to Houston with the team on Sunday night.

He returned to Houston on a private jet Monday but wasn’t cleared to return to the dugout until Thursday.

At first, Baker welcomed the rest amid a hectic season in which he didn’t get any time off during the All-Star break because he was the manager of the AL squad. But after a couple of days, boredom set in.

“I listened to music all day, watched TV, made phone calls and caught up on things,” he said. “I don’t get bored, but after five or six days you want to get back out here.”

He kept up with the team by watching the games on television and staying in constant contact with bench coach Joe Espada, who managed the team in his absence. He didn’t watch one game – Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Cleveland – because it was broadcast on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, and he couldn’t figure out how to watch it in his hotel room.

He wasn’t that mad about it, though, because he used the extra time to catch a Bob Marley documentary on Netflix while keeping up with the game on his phone.

“That was a pretty good afternoon,” he said, adding that he saw the late reggae great in concert twice, including once in Jamaica.

Baker said he was never that concerned about testing positive despite being in a high-risk age bracket.

“Not really because I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “And I kept waiting to feel something.”

The Astros, who at 71-41 began Thursday tied with the Yankees for the best record in the American League, went 2-3 while Baker was out.

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.