Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the results of Justin Turner’s initial COVID test were inconclusive, prompting the processing of his second test to be expedited. That test was positive, resulting in his removal from the game.
The players gathered on the field in various states of face-covering. The winning team was at home, but wasn’t; they gathered in the middle of a dark, huge, faraway stadium, with fans spread haphazardly in the stands, some gathered in jubilant, worrying clusters. And as the trophies were about to be presented, the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement: Justin Turner, one of the most important members of this team for the past eight years, had exited the game mysteriously in the eighth inning. The reason for that exit, the public was somberly told, was that he had received a positive COVID-19 test.
But then, all of a sudden, it cut back to the field, to the smiling, hugging, weeping players, the speeches and the trophies and the booing and the cheering, just as if it was a normal World Series. Even Turner got his on-field shot with the trophy, despite being removed from the game to be isolated and prevent the spread of infection; even Turner joined the team for their group photo.
The pandemic rages on, even within the confines of the diamond: a place that so often attempts to shelter itself from the realities of living in society, that had been fighting to keep their bubble — or, at the very least, its appearance — intact. Turner’s test results from yesterday were, apparently, revealed to be inconclusive in the second inning of tonight’s game. His test results from today were confirmed positive later. And yet, they kept playing baseball, right to the very end, through Game 6 of the World Series, with over 11,000 fans in attendance. The Dodgers, appearing in their third Fall Classic over the last four seasons, beat the Rays 3-1. In this truncated, bedeviled, dubious season, in a world rife with uncertainty, and heading into a dark and fearful winter, it was the best team in baseball that emerged victorious. And now, with Turner’s positive test and the questions it raises, the best team in baseball leaves their celebration not to celebrate further, but to rapid testing and quarantining — a shadow hanging over the sublime joy of a championship a long time in the making.
Just a few hours ago, though, none of this — Turner, COVID, the questions facing MLB and the Dodgers going forward — was in the game story. The game story was Randy Arozarena putting an exclamation point on his historic postseason, hitting his 10th October home run off Tony Gonsolin in the first to put the Rays up 1-0. When we look back on this October, Arozarena’s out-of-nowhere explosion into the most fearsome hitter on any postseason team’s lineup, a bonafide star carrying the Rays’ offense on his back, will certainly be near the top of the list of memorable moments.
And the game story was the Dodgers’ bullpen, so often postseason goats, who took over from the clearly struggling Gonsolin after just five outs in what was intended to be a full start from him. It was Dylan Floro, who came in with two on in the second and struck out Arozarena on three pitches to end the inning. It was the mostly-sidelined Alex Wood pitching two perfect, shockingly efficient innings of middle-relief; Pedro Báez, to whom much is always, somehow, given, redeeming the two-homer egg he laid in that wild Game 4; Victor González, who bailed out Báez after Arozarena got yet another hit; Brusdar Graterol, who overcame his wildness — and got a little help from Cody Bellinger’s superb fielding in center — to record two outs in the seventh; and Julio Urías, who closed out the NLCS, once again shutting down the opposing team over the final innings of the game. Read the rest of this entry »
The first game of this NLCS was a tense thriller, carrying a score of 1-1 into the top of the ninth thanks to the performances of starters Walker Buehler and Max Fried. With a burst of offense in the ninth, the Braves took that game, 5-1. Five days later — doesn’t it feel like it’s been longer? — Atlanta entered Game 6, a repeat of that starting pitching matchup, with a chance to walk away with the pennant. And while the two games had many features in common — low scores, great starting pitching, and missed opportunities on the offensive side — it was the Dodgers, this time, who came out on top. After a 3-1 Los Angeles victory, the series is now tied at 3-3, with a decisive seventh game coming tomorrow.
Buehler set the tone by retiring Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna on only seven pitches in the top of the first. Fried, who outpitched Buehler in Game 1, did not have the same success. He retired Mookie Betts without incident, but Corey Seager turned on a curveball on the inner half, sending it into the seats in right field. Two batters into the game, the Dodgers already had the lead — and one batter later, they added to it, as Justin Turner shot a sinker just over the outstretched arm of Cristian Pache in center. Read the rest of this entry »
It all started, as it so often has in this ALCS, with a homer — the first pitch from Rays opener John Curtiss, a fastball over the plate, was launched into the seats by George Springer. And it ended with a homer from Carlos Correa, crushed to center in the bottom of the ninth — his third ALCS walkoff in the last four seasons. The Astros, for the second day in a row, won a do-or-die game by a single run, the final score again 4-3. And their deficit in the series, once a daunting three games to none, has narrowed all the way to 3-2.
How they got there on the pitching side was a little less familiar than it was on the hitting side. The Astros used seven pitchers over the course of Game 5, the first five of whom were rookies. First on the mound was Luis Garcia, 21 years old, with all of 12.1 major-league innings on his resume. Despite some hard contact — a hard fly ball from Brandon Lowe, a line drive from none other than Randy Arozarena — he got through the first inning without allowing a baserunner. Garcia’s second inning was a little more fraught: he loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter for Mike Zunino. But Zunino flew out, stranding all three runners. The inning, and Garcia’s postseason debut, ended without incident. Read the rest of this entry »
In the top of the ninth of this second game of the NLCS, Mark Melancon caught his second home run in two days. It was a rare feat for a closer, made all the rarer by the fact that both homers were hit by the same player, Ozzie Albies, and that both had come in the top of the ninth. But the unlikely catches were not entirely symmetrical. The home run in Game 1, a two-run shot, had put the Braves ahead 5-1, capping off a late rally that broke a tense 1-1 tie; the ball carried, as if placed by an unseen hand, directly into Melancon’s glove. He seemed more shocked than anything — with the game still fairly close, he was more concerned with preparing to close out the bottom of the ninth.
The home run in Game 2, though, was the cherry on top of a long day of scoring. It took a comfortable lead and made it that much more comfortable. When Albies made contact on a sinker from Adam Kolarek, Melancon saw his chance; he jogged over, made the catch, and broke into a celebratory trot around the bullpen.
.@ozzie to @Mark_Melancon_ has become the greatest tag team in Major League Baseball.#MixItUp pic.twitter.com/kjIe1crmjO
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 14, 2020
.@ozzie to @Mark_Melancon_ has become the greatest tag team in Major League Baseball.#MixItUp pic.twitter.com/kjIe1crmjO
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 14, 2020
Read the rest of this entry »
For a little while there, everything was going the way the A’s drew it up. Thanks to — you guessed it — a homer, they had a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the fourth. Zack Greinke, though generally effective, had allowed consecutive singles to Matt Olson and Mark Canha in the top of third; he hung a 3-2 slider to Ramón Laureano, and the A’s jumped out ahead. Meanwhile, Frankie Montas had managed to face the minimum through his three frames, outside of Yuli Gurriel reaching base on an Olson error. After the Laureano homer, the A’s win expectancy jumped to 76.4%. It wasn’t just that they had a chance to win, to stay alive and push this ALDS to a winner-take-all fifth game; they had a good chance.
It was all the more astonishing, then, how quickly the wheels fell off for Oakland, how quickly the Astros swung the game in their favor, taking it to a point of no return. Though the A’s offense did their best to rally, the scale of the thumping the Astros lineup put on Montas and a desperate, ineffective succession of A’s relievers was, in the end, too much for them to overcome. With a final score of 11-6, the Astros make their way into their fourth consecutive ALCS, while the A’s make their way home after yet another postseason heartbreak.
In this astonishingly homer-heavy postseason, no teams have played homer-heavier games than the Yankees and the Rays in this ALDS. Of the 24 runs they’ve scored, all but four have come via the long ball. In every playoff game this postseason, the team that has out-homered the other has won. And so it went in Game 2, with the Rays’ four homers — accounting for six of their seven runs — surpassing the Yankees’ two, en route to a 7-5 final score.
All of the Yankees’ home runs came off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, whose extraordinary power manifested in the form of a shockingly casual rocket into right field, tying the game at one in the second, and a three-run shot crushed to the tune of 118 mph in the fourth, both off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow. They were his fourth and fifth homers in four postseason games this year.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, though, both of these homers were hit while trailing. Overshadowing Stanton’s displays of strength was the way that the Yankees chose to set up their pitching. The rookie Deivi García was ostensibly tapped for the start. But after pitching a single inning and giving up yet another Randy Arozarena home run, García was lifted, a secret opener for J.A. Happ. Read the rest of this entry »
The first plate appearance of Game 2 in the Wild Card Series between the Brewers and the Dodgers went like this: a high fastball from Clayton Kershaw, coming in at 92.7 mph. A slider, fouled off by Avisaíl García. Then another slider — a swing and a miss. And then another slider, the best of all of them, for the strikeout.
That first plate appearance set the tone for the rest of the night. Though the 3-0 final score may suggest a close game, in reality, it didn’t feel all that close. Kershaw utterly dominated the Brewers, who, as the broadcast frequently noted, end their season never having cleared the .500 mark. Through eight scoreless innings of work, he struck out 13, allowing just three hits and a walk. It was one of the best postseason performances of his career, and it propels the Dodgers into the NLDS.
For the first four innings of the game, Kershaw and Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff — who hit a first-inning home run off Kershaw in the NLCS two years ago — matched each other blow-for-blow. Kershaw struck out two in the top of the first; Woodruff struck out two in the bottom. Kershaw retired the Brewers in order in the top of the second; Woodruff did the same to the Dodgers in the bottom half of the inning, adding two more strikeouts. In the top of the third, Kershaw pitched around a leadoff single, retiring the next three batters; in the bottom of the third, Woodruff, too, pitched around a single, again striking out two. And in the fourth, both halves of the inning saw all three batters retired, with both pitchers recording two more strikeouts.
Everything was working for Kershaw, whose fastball averaged 91.8 mph over the course of his start. His slider, which he threw 48% of the time, was particularly devastating: It generated 32 swings on 45 pitches, with 20 of those swings being whiffs. Of his eventual 13 strikeouts, 10 were on the slider; nine of those 10 were swinging strikeouts. Woodruff, for his part, also had his pitches working for the first four innings, generating strikeouts on his changeup, slider, and, most often, his fastball, which averaged 96.9 mph. Read the rest of this entry »
In a perfect world for the San Diego Padres — or even a still-imperfect, slightly better world — Dinelson Lamet would have been on the mound in Game 1 of their Wild Card Series against the Cardinals. In that better world, Mike Clevinger would have been waiting in the wings for a Game 2. But that’s not the world that the Padres got. Instead, Lamet and Clevinger, both injured, were left off the series roster; Chris Paddack was the hastily-announced starter for the series opener. And without their two best pitchers, the Padres find themselves already staring down elimination after a grueling 7-4 loss in Game 1 that took nearly four hours and saw each team use more than six pitchers.
From the first batter of the game, the Cardinals lineup — which ranked 19th in wRC+ and is coming off one of the most brutal stretches of non-stop baseball that we’ve ever seen — was all over Paddack. It’s been a tough sophomore season for the 24-year-old, largely due to the ineffectiveness of his fastball: What was, in his rookie season, a strength of his repertoire has been a weakness in 2020, with decreased movement and poor command resulting in a lot of hard contact. Paddack was one of baseball’s hardest-hit pitchers this year, and today the damage against him started almost immediately. After a leadoff popup off the bat of Kolten Wong, five consecutive hits — single, home run, double, single, double — put the Cardinals ahead 3-0. A sacrifice fly made the score 4-0 before Kwang Hyun Kim had faced a single batter. Three out of those five hits had exit velocities above 100 mph, including the home run crushed off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt. Read the rest of this entry »
The comments will tell you that the victory is worthless. The division was bad. The Diamondbacks, the team they overtook, the team they just beat to win the title — bad. These guys, I mean, how long has it been since these guys won anything, since they got anywhere? Three years, four? Twenty? There are few fans in the dark stadium seats to see this victory, dappled in weird midday light.
But the young closer, so dominant this season, retires the final batter, quick and easy, the final score set at 7-6. And then they, the visitors, pour out of the dugout, the fans who have traveled to see this happen beaming above them — running, hugging, jumping, all happiness gravitating around that spot on the field where the closer stands, even as the scowls come from the other dugout, the home team exiting, heads down and deflated.
You have to slow it down, all the spinning celebration, to see him: the pitcher, one of the first blurry figures over the dugout fence, sprinting at full speed, there a moment and then gone into the grey-blue heart of the celebration. He is the best player on this team. He is the best pitcher in baseball. Right now, though, he is not a singular figure. You can make him out, but you have to squint. He is absorbed in the dynamism of joy.
It took a few days longer than it did last year. But they are at home, the towering curves of the stands filled with people, all of them standing. The pitch — the ball, grounded into the infield — the twirl, the spin, the out recorded just in time, even though the stakes are so low, the score is 9-1, the celebration only waiting to happen. And the camera knows to focus on him this time, the first out of the dugout again. Like a kid: a broad, open-mouthed smile as the fireworks burst, as the foundations shake and the lights flash and everything spills into everything, all motion, all joy. He puts on his hat and grins for the cameras.
The smoke is everywhere. It is in everything. It is inescapable. Closing the windows can’t keep it out completely. No air purifier will absorb all of the particles of ash. It has been days now since I stepped outside without feeling it immediately: the heaviness, the scratching in my throat and my lungs and my eyes. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m healthy, and I’m indoors, and though the air here is full of the aftermath of fires, those fires are far away to the south, where the wind is blowing in from. There, the fires are still burning. They burn more by the hour. Thousands of people have been displaced, forced to take refuge in fairgrounds left empty by the pandemic, the fates of their homes and their livelihoods unknown. Thousands more still have to work in this state of uncertainty, with the air around them full of danger. Dozens are missing; dozens have been killed. The skies have gone deep red, then disappeared entirely. And this, we are told, is what we have to look forward to in the summers of the future: More burning. More toxic air. More displacement. More death.
Through it all, they keep playing baseball.
The image looks like it’s been doctored, like someone has run a bad filter over it. Everything has a blurry red-gray haze: the players, the cardboard fans, the grass. More than 790,000 acres of land in the state of Washington has been consumed by fire. In Seattle, though, the Mariners are, unexpectedly, in the midst of a playoff push. They are scheduled to play a double-header. The amount of fine particulate matter in the air measures over 200 micrograms per cubic meter. The roof being closed doesn’t help.
Almost a month ago, when the fires started burning, MLB clarified their position on the cancellation of games due to air quality. There is precedent for such a thing happening. Northwestern minor league teams have done it in recent years; so have teams in the Australian Baseball League. But as far as major league teams go, MLB has decided on a hands-off approach, leaving the decision of whether or not to play with team ownership. There has been much discussion of air-quality-related postponement over the past month; there has yet to be an actual postponement. Not when the skies above Oracle Park were thick with an eerie orange haze, not when ash blanketed the cars parked outside the Oakland Coliseum. And not in Seattle, where the Air Quality Index stayed firmly in the Unhealthy range throughout Monday. In Vancouver, Canada Post canceled all deliveries. It was unsafe, they said, to make postal workers walk around in this environment. Read the rest of this entry »