This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: July 2020

Finally, a Baseball Season    Tainted Fish: COVID-19 and the Marlins
The Toronto Road Warriors, nee Blue Jays    (@#$%) the Auto Runner on Second


Wednesday, July 1

Interviewed on Dan Patrick’s radio show, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says that he and the owners were never going to allow more than 60 games to be played in 2020, even had the players’ union given him everything else they wanted. Manfred pins the reason for this on the necessity of ending any regular season by the originally scheduled end date of September 27, followed by a normal postseason. But, it was also likely because owners would have lost money with each additional game played in front of no spectators, so Manfred’s delay tactics in reaching agreement with the union—followed by MLB’s decree to start in late July when none was reached—very possibly was a factor of convenience toward 60 games.

As if to do damage control, Manfred a day later will clarify his remarks, saying that “there was only time to play 60 games” and no more, as if the matter was out of his hands. But they weren’t.

Thursday, July 2

In a move that might send the Black Sox Eight spinning in their graves—and Pete Rose spinning in his bed—the Detroit Tigers announce a partnership with PointsBet that will “enhance fan engagement and game-day excitement by providing access to unique experiences, content, promotions and more, in and around Comerica Park.” Translation: There will be legal in-ballpark betting for the first time in a major league venue. This is especially allowed in Detroit, where sportsbook gambling is legal.

Friday, July 3

In a move that’s hardly surprising given the current situation, MLB officially cancels the 2020 All-Star Game, slated to be held at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. It had been hoped that the Mid-Summer Classic would help kick off a shortened season, but that was a few months back when owners and players were eyeing something of an earlier start date. Dodger Stadium will not be totally denied; it will be given the 2022 All-Star Game as a make-up.

This is only the second time since the All-Star Game began in 1931 that it has been canceled; it was also ditched in 1945, near the end of World War II when available talent was starved to the point that the concept of an “All-Star” game seemed pointless.

In a joint statement from MLB and the players’ union, tests on 3.185 players and staff from all baseball clubs except the Oakland A’s reveal that 38 (or 1.2%) are positive for COVID-19. (The A’s were not included because they have not finished their testing.) Only a handful of those who tested positive reveal their identities, including Cleveland outfielder Delino DeShields, Minnesota catcher Willians Astudillo and San Diego outfielder Tommy Pham.

The 1.2% positive rate is actually low compared to the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer, both of which are trying to restart their campaigns within a “bubble” in Florida with tournament-style games; their rates are in the 7-8% range.

Saturday, July 4

Star pitcher David Price, traded to the Dodgers along with Mookie Betts this past offseason by Boston, says he will opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19. He was due to make nearly $12 million in prorated money—split evenly between the Dodgers and Red Sox—so cash flow apparently isn’t an issue for the lefty; in fact, he’ll make nothing this season on top of the fact that he vows to pay each Dodgers minor leaguer $1,000 out of his own pocket to keep them financially afloat this year.

Joining Price on the “thanks, no thanks” list is veteran pitcher Felix Hernandez, who after 15 years in Seattle signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves.

There is good reason for players to be opting out, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that the 2020 season—and perhaps beyond—will be dictated not by owners, players or money but by the virus itself. More players are revealed to have COVID-19, including Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman—who is practically bedridden with the virus—Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, New York Yankees infielder DJ LaMahieu and Minnesota slugger Miguel Sano.

Freeman will return to the Braves in time for the season to begin, but was so sick from and petrified of the virus that at one point he said a prayer for himself, worried that he wouldn’t make it.

At this rate, all those minor leaguers who thought they’d be out of work this year might want to think again; reinforcements will need to be in high supply.

As if opting out and positive virus tests aren’t enough, the Yankees endure even more pain when, in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium, pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is thumped in the head on a line-drive comebacker from Giancarlo Stanton. Tanaka is rushed to the hospital but will be released shortly thereafter, having dodged a major bullet if not Stanton’s laser of a line drive.

Monday, July 6

The Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros cancel summer camp for the day because they haven’t received the latest COVID-19 test results of their players and staff, as had been promised within a 24-hour period by MLB. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo states that “we will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families…Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab.”

The league-wide testing process does appear to be off to a rocky start; apart from teams not receiving results, others haven’t even seen the testers show up. Rather than apologize, commissioner Rob Manfred is said to be upset with those criticizing, with one league official telling the Washington Post that Manfred “jumped on (Rizzo)” for his comments.

More pre-Opening Day casualties mount as Texas slugger Joey Gallo and Arizona outfielder Kole Calhoun tests positive for COVID-19 while veteran Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis opts out of the upcoming season. Markakis says his decision was influenced by a phone call he had with a sickened Freddie Freeman, who’s struggling with the virus. (Markakis will change his mind and return a few weeks into the shortened season.)

As more players drop out, whether by design or not, the volume begins to be turned up from players and reporters who doubt that the 2020 season will be completed in whole—or even get started. Oakland pitcher Jake Diekman: “I feel like deep down, every player has it in the back of their mind that this is all going to fall apart.”

MLB releases its shortened 2020 schedule, should it be played. The season begins on July 23 with the two Thursday night affairs: The New York Yankees at Washington, and the San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers. Get your tickets now…oh, never mind.

Tuesday, July 7

Today’s listing of players stricken by COVID-19: Boston pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller and teammate slugger Ryan O’Hearn. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants cancel their workouts because, once again, test results are lagging.

Thursday, July 9

It certainly is thinking ahead in light of what’s happening in the current, but MLB releases its schedule for the 2021 season. Opening Day will take place on April 1 as MLB was bound to err on starting later than sooner—perhaps in hopes to give a little extra time for any COVID-19 vaccine that will hopefully be available and return everything as close to normal as possible. Also to note: All 30 teams will participate on Opening Day, the first time all teams are on the first-day schedule since 1968. Among the scheduled games is an interleague contest between the Yankees and Mets at Citi Field on September 11—the 20-year anniversary of 9-11.

Friday, July 10

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey is the latest big-name MLB star to opt out of the shortened 2020 season. Posey’s reason is quite legitimate; he and his wife just adopted twin babies born prematurely and remain in ICU, and he doesn’t want his exposure to (or from) teammates to increase the odds that they’ll be infected by COVID-19. Even before the adoption, Posey didn’t seem thrilled with the restart of training amid the pandemic, blurting out to reporters at one point, “What are we even doing here?”

Three weeks after a delayed start to its season, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball is allowing fans back into ballparks. The conditions are as follows: Crowds are limited to 5,000 or 50% of capacity—whichever is smaller—masks must be worn and temperature checks must be administered, no alcohol can be served (although food and other beverages can), in-park stores are open, and…you can’t cheer too loudly, because doing so might release more potentially viral droplets into the air.

Saturday, July 11

Add Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to the COVID-19 list, after it’s revealed he tested positive for the virus and is experiencing “mild” symptoms. The 32-year-old flamethrower will likely miss the team’s opener on July 23.

Frank Bolling, a trusty second baseman who split his 13 major league seasons between the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Braves, dies at the age of 88. The Mobile, Alabama-born Bolling was twice an All-Star and once a Gold Glove recipient, leading the NL at his position four times in fielding percentage, but he never made it to a postseason. He did, however, hit the last of six grand slams ever allowed by Sandy Koufax on September 22, 1965. (The Braves still lost that game in 11 innings, 7-6.)

Sunday, July 12

If players are indeed to be ready for the shortened 2020 season in just two weeks, they’ll need to be able to practice as often as they can—and that continues to be a problem. The Astros’ pitching staff and its coach, 71-year-old Brent Strom, are forced to take the day off after possibly being exposed a day earlier by a staff employee who tested positive for COVID-19. This, after the entire team workout the day before was also canceled.

Monday, July 13

Owners and players are seeing eye to eye on some financial aspects of the 2020 season. It’s quietly agreed to—and reported by few—that MLB will vest full player options on prorated milestones, while bonuses will be paid at prorated rates in the regular season—but paid at full rates for the postseason, since that will not be shortened.

St. Louis reliever Jordan Hicks becomes the latest player to voluntarily drop out of the shortened 2020 schedule, citing “pre-existing conditions.” One of those is not assumed to be Tommy John surgery, for which he is recovering from after undergoing the procedure last season. Hicks threw the 21 fastest pitches of the 2019 season, with four of them topping 104 MPH.

Tuesday, July 14

Outfielder Yasiel Puig, the biggest name still left on the free agent ticker, inks a one-year (or really, two-month) deal with Atlanta. The signing will help the Braves fill the temporary void in the outfield created by opted-out Nick Markakis.

Two days later, the agreement will be on hold…because Puig tests positive for COVID-19. This is the world we live in.

Players and coaches aren’t the only ones opting out of the shortened 2020 campaign. Eleven major league umpires say that will not participate, citing the usual but understandable factors. Those stepping out are not revealed at this time, but will be apparent once the season starts.

Wednesday, July 15

Veteran reliever Joe Smith voluntarily drops out of the shortened 2020 season, telling the Astros that he’d rather stay home safe with his family. The 36-year-old Smith was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 28 appearances last season for Houston.

Thursday, July 16

Tony Taylor, a steady veteran presence who played 19 years in the majors and counted teammates along the way from Bobby Thomson to Garry Maddox, dies at the age of 84. The Cuban-born infielder never wowed on the stat sheet but nevertheless played an integral part of most every team he played for, including the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and, in his later years, the Detroit Tigers. Taylor’s finest campaign came in 1963, when he batted .281 for the Phillies with 102 runs, 10 triples and 23 steals. After his playing career, Taylor periodically coached for the Phillies and Florida Marlins.

Positive Test of the Day: Tampa Bay’s Austin Meadows, who broke out last season with a .291 average, team-leading 33 home runs and 89 RBIs. Overall, 80 active roster players have tested positive for COVID-19.

Saturday, July 18

A few weeks ago, the Blue Jays were told by the Canadian government that they could play in Toronto at Rogers Centre. But, they weren’t told whether they could travel to the U.S. to play the bulk of their schedule and return back home, again and again. Today, the Jays are told that they won’t be able to do that, essentially scuttling any plans to play in Toronto during the shortened 2020 season. There’s a good reason for that; Canada has been averaging less than 500 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the last month, while the U.S. during that same time have been averaging 100 times that amount. With 10 days before their first scheduled home game, the Blue Jays must now decide where “home” will be.

After several weeks of intrasquad play, there are some actual exhibition games between different teams less than a week before the rescheduled Opening Day. In Washington, the Phillies hammer the Nationals 7-2 on a pair of three-run homers—one each from new Phillie Didi Gregorius and former Nationals All-Star Bryce Harper—off of Max Scherzer; Cleveland strikes for five late runs to topple the Pirates at Pittsburgh, 5-3; and at Citi Field in New York, the Yankees take advantage of four Mets errors to triumph, 9-3. There are no actual fans at any of the ballparks, of course, but facsimile sensations are apparent with cardboard fan cutouts placed in seats while crowd noise is piped in through the public address system. As for the real people within the ballpark, some players, coaches and umpires wear masks—the Yankees’ Clint Frazier may go down as the first major league player ever to go deep wearing one—reserves normally bunched in the dugout are spread out in the seats behind, and players give each other “air high fives” after good doings to avoid direct contact.

In a sign that teams are looking to make up for virus-zapped revenue, the Mets place a Ford logo on the back of the mound during their exhibition with the Yankees, which is televised nationally on ESPN.

Sunday, July 19

Umpire Rick Reed, who worked 31 years in the majors including two All-Star Games and the 1991 World Series between Atlanta and Minnesota, dies at the age of 70. Reed, who also appeared as an umpire in the 1999 film For Love of the Game, quit his job in 2009 in part because of two strokes he suffered in the year before; his cause of death is undisclosed.

Monday, July 20

Late in San Francisco’s 6-2 exhibition win at Oakland, assistant coach Alyssa Nakken takes over first-base coaching duties—thus becoming the first female ever to provide on-field coaching during a major league game, whether it be a preseason, regular season or postseason game. The Giants also make news prior to the first pitch as Gabe Kapler becomes the first major league manager to kneel during the National Anthem, along with some of his players.

Tuesday, July 21

Gavin Lux was a late contributor to the Dodgers last season, as the highly-touted prospect hit .240 with a pair of home runs over 75 regular season at-bats before hitting another dinger in the team’s failed NLDS against Washington. But despite rising expectations and an expanded roster, Lux is optioned by the Dodgers to the minors…where he’ll do nothing, as the lower levels are all shut down for the entirety of 2020. It’s suspected that Lux and other big-name prospects will get the shaft in this shortened season so that their teams won’t “waste” a year of service, a maddening tactic that also delayed the arrival of such current stars as Evan Longoria, Kris Bryant and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in years pasts. For Lux, it means virtual inactivity this year and a year further out from receiving potential riches. It’s something that the players’ union will undoubtedly address as negotiations for a new Basic Agreement start up.

Wednesday, July 22

Mookie Betts’ time with the Dodgers will not be fleeting. The All-Star outfielder signs a 12-year, $365 million extension to stay in Los Angeles beyond 2020, the second largest contract in MLB history after Mike Trout’s $426.5 million megadeal of a year earlier. This ends any hope for Boston fans that the 28-year-old Betts, who would have been a free agent after this season, would have returned to the Red Sox where he played his first six years.

The Blue Jays may have to adopt a temporary name this year: The Road Warriors. After being told they can’t play at their home base at Toronto, the Jays have been informed by the state of Pennsylvania that they won’t be allowed to call PNC Park home, even after the team and the Pirates agreed to a deal to share the park. The team has a week to figure it out; its first “home” game is scheduled for July 29.

Two days later, the Blue Jays will finally settle on a home and be given permission to use it: Buffalo, the site of their Triple-A ballclub.

Thursday, July 23

Almost four months after it was supposed to start, the shortened 2020 MLB regular season begins with, aptly, a rain-shortened marquee contest in Washington as the Yankees power past Max Scherzer and the defending champion Nationals, 4-1. Giancarlo Stanton belts a two-run home run in the first inning to set the pace, while Gerrit Cole—making his first start in pinstripes—allows just one hit (an Adam Eaton homer in the first) while striking out five before a thunderstorm rips through the area in the sixth, ending the official game. Not only does Mother Nature get its say, but so does the virus, as it will undoubtedly will throughout the season; missing for the Nationals is young star slugger Juan Soto, who earlier in the day tests positive for COVID-19.

Cole, who gets credit for a five-inning complete game, wins his 17th straight regular season decision going back to last season—but the rain helps end his streak of nine consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts, as he punches out only five Nationals; his run ends just one shy of Pedro Martinez’s all-time mark. Scherzer, meanwhile, records 11 Ks over 5.1 innings, making him the first pitcher to record at least 10 in three straight Opening Day starts. 

As sports fans become desperate to watch something, anything during this viral period of quarantine, it comes as no surprise to discover that this game attracts the largest audience for a regular season telecast on ESPN since 2011.

In the other game out West, the Dodgers overcome the absence of ace Clayton Kershaw (scratched with a bad back) and pull away from the visiting Giants, 8-1. In his place, top prospect and Raggedy Doll clone Dustin May scatters seven hits over 4.1 innings but allows just one run; Kiké Hernandez stars at the plate with four hits and five RBIs. Mookie Betts, in his first official game as a Dodger, goes 1-for-5 with a run scored.

The Giants’ Pablo Sandoval, playing first base, is the only player in either game to wear a mask on the field. 

Hunter Pence makes history by becoming the first player to bat as a designated hitter in a National League game. He grounds out for the Giants’ final out of the first inning.

MLB and its players let everyone know where they stand on the recent social unrest targeting systemic racism. For both games, the MLB logo is placed on the back of the mound with “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) underneath, while players in both games kneel in support of the movement while holding a black ribbon, then rise (with some exceptions) for the National Anthem. Meanwhile in Boston, the Red Sox—the last team to integrate in 1959 and once owned by reported racist Tom Yawkey—unveils a 250-foot-long banner outside of Fenway Park with “Black Lives Matter” scrawled out in the team’s uniform font.

Significant news is made off the field as owners and players agree at the 11th hour to expand the 2020 postseason from the normal 10 teams to 16. The top two teams from each division will automatically qualify; the two teams with the next best records will also garner playoff berths. All teams will participate in a best-of-three first round, followed by standard LDS (best-of-five) and LCS (best-of-seven) formats in advance of the best-of-seven World Series.

With playoff slots for 16 of the 30 MLB teams, expect to see the first ballclub with a losing record since the 1981 Kansas City Royals make it into October.

Friday, July 24

Yo, Mets! At New York, Yoenis Cespedes’ solo homer in the seventh inning is all the Mets need to defeat Atlanta, 1-0. The dinger comes one frame after Mike Soroka (six shutout innings) departs for the Braves, and two innings too late for Jacob deGrom (five innings of one-hit ball) to earn credit for the win. Cespedes has homered in three straight games—over a two-plus year period, as injuries have kept him largely sidelined.

A day after fans snicker about Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole getting credit for pitching a “complete game” in a rain-shortened (5-plus innings) opener, the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks truly goes the distance, firing a three-hit shutout with no walks in a 3-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago. Orlando Arcia, batting in the #9 spot for the Brewers, snags all three hits off of Hendricks.

Corey who? Cleveland’s Shane Bieber wows in his first start of 2020, striking out 14 Kansas City Royals—one shy of the all-time Opening Day record—over six shutout frames, and three relievers add four more to total an OD nine inning-record 18 in a 2-0 victory. The Indians opt to wear their road uniforms with “Cleveland” adorned across the front rather than the name, as the team is currently deciding whether to undergo a brand overhaul.

In one of the strangest—and let’s face it, saddest—official christenings of a new ballpark, the Rangers “open” Globe Life Field with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rockies. Rougned Odor’s RBI double in the sixth accounts for the game’s lone tally, and Lance Lynn gets the win with six shutout innings. Like everywhere else in the majors, there’s no fans in the stands—but there is a “crowd” of 2,700 spectator cutouts gracing the lower seats and field-level suites behind home plate, a tactic being used at other ballparks. The players, meanwhile, are grateful for the retractable roof that serves as the primary reason for Globe Life Field’s existence; the first pitch temperature outside is 96 degrees.

Like Orlando Arcia for the Brewers at Chicago, the Rockies’ David Dahl collects all three hits for Colorado. Only difference: Dahl hits leadoff. 

Bring in the fences? There were only seven 1-0 games over the first 14 years at the Rangers’ previous home across the street, Globe Life Park.

The Angels and A’s are deadlocked, 3-3, at Oakland after nine innings, and thus we go to the 10th and, for the first time ever in a regular season game, the dreaded automatic-runner-on-second rule. Whether it has a direct impact on the final result, a 7-3 Oakland win in the 10th on Matt Olson’s grand slam, is debatable. Shohei Ohtani is placed on second for the Angels in the top of the extra frame, but is immediately tagged out in a rundown on a ground ball in the first at-bat; Marcus Semien gets the nod to take second in the bottom half for the A’s, moves to third on a wild pitch, then scores on Olsen’s blast.

At Boston, the Red Sox hammer the Baltimore Orioles, 13-2, on the strength of an Opening Day-record eight doubles—including two each from J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jose Peraza.

Saturday, July 25

The Rockies squeeze out a 3-2 win at Texas behind Daniel Bard, pitching in his first game since 2013 and getting credit for the win after replacing starter Jon Gray in the fifth inning. The 35-year-old Bard hadn’t even pitched in professional baseball since 2017, when he walked 24 batters over 9.1 innings in the minors; he since served as an instructional coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Back on the mound, Bard’s control returns with 20 strikes among his 25 total pitches.

Wade Davis gives up a ninth-inning run but gets his first save in exactly a year for the Rockies; in his 16 appearances since his previous save, he had produced a 16.05 ERA over 12.1 innings.

The folly of the automatic runner on second base rule goes full frontal in the Royals’ 3-2 win at Cleveland. Brett Phillips is given the assignment to take second in the top of the 10th, is bunted over to third, then scores on Maikel Franco’s sac fly. The Indians cannot counter as Greg Allen, their automatic baserunner, stays put at second while Greg Holland strikes out the side to wrap up the win.

The Royals’ win was not earned. It was a gift, courtesy of commissioner Rob Manfred. We get that MLB is hoping to avoid long extra-inning games in this shortened “sprint” of a season, but this smacks of Little League gimmickry. It should not be allowed beyond 2020. But don’t leave it to us: Here’s what Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger has to say about the rule, via Twitter: “The new extra inning rule is the whackest s*** I’ve ever seen, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a runner to second off the back end of a bullpen?!!!”

Sunday, July 26

The Marlins squash the Phillies at Philadelphia, 11-6, as Mel Rojas finishes a double shy of the cycle and knocks in four runs. But that’s not the big news on the day. Before the game, four Miami players—pitcher Jose Urena, catcher Jorge Alfaro, infielder Garrett Cooper and outfielder Harold Ramirez—all test positive for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the next day will reveal that this could be the tip of the iceberg.

The Twins’ Nelson Cruz, age 40, has a whale of a day at Chicago. The veteran slugger blasts two homers and two doubles, collecting seven total RBIs, and Jake Cave adds a grand slam to demolish the White Sox, 14-2. Former Dodger Kenta Maeda gets the win in his first start for Minnesota.

Shohei Ohtani’s first appearance on a mound since 2018 amounts to one giant mulligan in Oakland. The Angels’ two-way threat bombs, as the first (and only) six A’s he faces reach base; five of them score. Spotted with the early 5-0 lead, the A’s hold on and defeat the Angels, 6-4.

As part of their failed comeback attempt, the Angels’ Mike Trout homers on a 3-0 pitch for the first time ever. Coming into the game, opposing pitchers had gone 3-0 210 times throughout his career; the outcome was one hit, 203 walks, a hit-by-pitch and five outs.

The Mariners run up three tallies in the eighth inning to come from behind and triumph at Houston, 7-6, breaking a 15-game losing skid against the Astros. There’s even worse news on the day for Houston; ace Justin Verlander is suffering from a forearm strain and will miss at least a few weeks—possibly the season, as some reports indicate.

Monday, July 27

Barely four days into the shortened regular season, there’s trouble. Seven more Marlins players and two of their coaches test positive for COVID-19, bringing the total on the team to 13; as a result, not only are Miami’s next two games (scheduled at Baltimore) postponed, but so is today’s game between the Phillies and Yankees at Philadelphia, where the Marlins just finished a three-game series and used a visiting clubhouse that needs to be fumigated. The news leads many baseball pundits to suggest that the 60-game pandemic-era schedule will never work and needs to be shut down, but commissioner Rob Manfred says later in the day that this is not a nightmare scenario.

We earlier half-joked that minor leaguers who’ve had their season canceled might still get a shot as pandemic replacement players. It really appears to be less of a joke now.

The Tampa Bay Rays club five home runs and have four pitchers combine for 19 strikeouts—a nine-inning franchise record—to smash the visiting Braves, 14-5. Hunter Renfroe collects two of the Rays’ homers; starter Tyler Glasnow has nine Ks through four-innings of one-hit work.

In a surprise announcement after the game, the Braves designate for assignment pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, who gives up six runs over 3.1 innings. Just two years ago, Foltynewicz was arguably the Braves’ best pitcher, producing a 13-10 record and 2.85 ERA—but that latter number rose to 4.54 last season, and his fastball velocity has slowed to an average of 89 MPH.

In the obscure-but-interesting statistical department, the Braves’ Marcell Ozuna goes hitless—ending a 21-game hitting streak against interleague opponents. The longest such streak remains 23 by the Marlins’ Luis Castillo (1999-2003).

The Royals rack up a team record-tying six homers—two from ex-Phillie Maikel Franco—to bury the Tigers at Detroit, 14-6. Former AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, making his first start since 2018, concedes four runs and three homers in 2.2 innings.

The Cubs’ Jon Lester fires five no-hits innings on 76 pitches before being removed with a 6-0 lead at Cincinnati—and seven Chicago pitchers nearly blow it up, surviving with an 8-7 victory over the Reds. The Reds plate two in the ninth and load the bases with one out before succumbing; six times in the frame, Reds batters draw the count full, which according to STATS is the highest such number in a ninth inning since pitch counts officially began being recorded in 1988.

Tuesday, July 28

The Marlins’ COVID-19 crisis intensifies. Four more players, including shortstop Miguel Rojas, test positive, leaving the total number of players/coaches stricken with the virus to 17. As the team remains in a Philadelphia hotel to self-isolate, the Washington Nationals—due to play at Miami later this week—votes not to go; MLB will later do one better by and declare all Marlins games off for the rest of the week, which is bound to throw a wrench into baseball’s tightly packed, shortened regular season schedule.

So how did all of this start? USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tells a Miami sports talk radio station that several Marlins players went out on the town in Atlanta during a short exhibition series there a few days before.

Things get heated as the Dodgers and Astros take on each other for the first time since news broke of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal that possibly cost Los Angeles a world title in 2017. The Dodgers erase a 2-0 deficit in the fifth with a five-run rally, the last of those tallies a bases-loaded walk given up by Houston’s Andre Scrubb—not exactly the best last name for a borderline major leaguer. Then the fun starts: In the sixth, Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly throws behind Alex Bregman, gets stepped on at first base by Michael Brantley while covering for a ground ball, and loops a curve at the head of Carlos Correa, who manages to just duck out of the way. Because there’s no one in the stands, the sounds of players become quite audible—and profane, as TV broadcasters apologize for some of the words picked up by the mics as the two teams empty dugouts and stare off against one another before things cool; at least they keep their social distance. The Dodgers win, 5-2.

Kelly will be suspended eight games for his actions—a pretty heady penalty given the season’s compressed length.

Arizona’s Merrill Kelly takes a no-hitter into the seventh before settling for 7.2 innings of two-hit ball as the Diamondbacks defeat the Rangers at Arlington, 4-1. Kelly is the first pitcher since Kyle Hendricks’ shutout three days earlier to last into the eighth inning.

Wednesday, July 29

The Reds defeat the visiting Cubs, 12-7, on the strength of home runs from Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel—both of whom had briefly fallen sick a few days earlier after possible exposure to teammate Matt Davidson, who tested positive for COVID-19—but lobbied to return to active duty after they both tested negative. Cincinnati starter Sonny Gray has a fine but unusual pitching line, allowing two runs (both unearned) on a hit and walk with 11 strikeouts over 6.2 innings of work.

In defeat, the Cubs pull off a triple play in the seventh when third baseman Kris Bryant snares a line drive off the infield dirt, before two more players are doubled up. But replays show that the ball hit the dirt and was trapped by Bryant; umpires would not overturn the call.

The Nationals, visitors in their own ballpark, score four times in the 10th, three on Asdrubal Cabrera’s bases-clearing triple, to defeat the “host” Toronto Blue Jays, 4-0. Max Scherzer strikes out 11 over 7.1 shutout innings and Nate Pearson, making his big-league debut for the Jays, allows just two hits through five shutout innings of his own—but neither pitcher gets a decision. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Toronto, but when Canadian authorities barred the Blue Jays from traveling back and forth to the United States—and with contingency plans still fluid—the game was rescheduled for Nationals Park, with the Jays batting last.

In another improvised matchup resulting from the COVID-19 chaos of recent days, the Yankees—who were scheduled to start the week at Philadelphia before that series was canceled—go to Baltimore to take on the Orioles, who originally were to play against the Phillies. New York eases to a 9-3 win—the Yankees’ 17th straight against the Orioles, and their 16th straight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as Gerrit Cole runs his Yankee record to 2-0.

Orioles catcher Pedro Severino interferes with both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning—making him the first player since 1920 to twice commit catcher’s interference within a single frame.

A night after tempers rise in Houston, the Dodgers and Astros are fit to be tied—but in a different light. A 1-1 game goes to extra innings—but even with the auto runner on second rule to start each half-inning of overtime, a winner isn’t decided until the 13th when Edwin Rios’ two-run homer decides a 4-2 victory for Los Angeles. Both teams manage a run in the 11th to keep things knotted.

John McNamara, who managed six teams over 19 years—and in his only World Series appearance in 1986 made the fatal mistake of putting hobbled first baseman Bill Buckner on the field for the 10th inning of the Red Sox’ potential series-clinching victory over the Mets—dies at the age of 88. A poor-hitting catcher in the minor leagues, McNamara figured his baseball career would be short, but obtained strong managerial instincts that led to his being hired as a player-manager at age 27. Throughout the 1960s, he won three minor league pennants—and late in 1969 got his first major league gig, leading the Oakland A’s. A nice guy—maybe too nice—McNamara developed a reputation as a nomadic retread, sliding from club to club over the next 25 years and winning postseason berths only twice: Once for the 1979 Reds, the other for the 1986 Red Sox. He finished with a career 1,160-1,233 record.

Thursday, July 30

As more COVID-19 postponements begin to pile up—the Phillies join the Marlins among teams not playing this entire week—management and players agree that to help make up the games down the line, doubleheaders consisting of seven-inning games will be played. This tactic is often used in minor league ball under normal times.

Some might wince at the idea of a continued Little League-zation of MLB this year with the auto runner on second rule and all, but baseball is desperately trying to find some way, any way to make sure it gets through this sprint of a shortened season and make it to the lucrative postseason. If it doesn’t, here’s another idea: Just end it early and give everyone trophies and pizza!

Shane Bieber continues to be electric for Cleveland, dazzling for eight shutout innings allowing three hits, no walks and striking out 13 Twins in a 2-0 victory at Minnesota. The 25-year-old righty becomes the first pitcher ever to strike out at least 13 with no runs allowed over his first two starts of a season, the first to do it in an American League game regardless of the time of year, and the first pitcher since the fleeting Karl Spooner in 1954 to strike out 27 batters with no runs allowed over the first starts of a year.

Kansas City gets past the Tigers at Detroit, 5-3, but the game’s noteworthy moments come from the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who has his 40th career multi-homer game—and his first in four years. The 37-year old’s two solo shots come after a 1-for-14 start to the year.

Friday, July 31

Commissioner Rob Manfred sends a message to the players: Adhere to the COVID-19 safety protocols or I’ll shut down the season, perhaps sooner than later. While Manfred has taken heat from the media and fans for not properly preparing teams with thorough safety planning, the players have done their part to mess things up by not keeping six feet apart whenever possible, not wearing masks (especially in the dugout), going out to bars between games and continuing to make contact (high fives, etc.). So perhaps Manfred’s edict, which is derided by some as projection for his own failings, will light a match under the players to wise up.

ESPN’s T.J. Quinn tweets: “A person connected to a very prominent player told me the player warned teammates that if they screw things up (on social distancing), he’ll get them traded. ‘And he could do it, too.’”

The viral effect threatens to spread beyond the Marlins and Phillies as two members of the St. Louis Cardinals test positive, forcing a postponement of their scheduled game at Milwaukee. That makes it three games on the day not played because of infection.

The Tigers stymie the Reds at Detroit, 7-2, behind six strong innings from Spencer Turnbull—who ends a 19-start winless streak with his first victory in 14 months. Turnbull allows two runs on three hits through six innings.

The thin air feels thick at the Rockies’ home opener against San Diego, as Jon Gray holds a 2-0 lead after five innings while allowing just two hits to the Padres. But then the real Coors Field shows up, as the two teams combine for 13 runs over the final four innings—and it’s the Padres who emerge victorious, 8-7, with four runs in the ninth on home runs from Tommy Pham and Fernando Tatis Jr.