Major League Baseball returned to a 162-game season Thursday that officially began in New York at 1:10 p.m. ET with a game the Yankees lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in 10 innings. The slate of 13 games didn’t end until 9:58 p.m. PT in Anaheim where the Los Angeles Angels defeated the Chicago White Sox.
In Boston and Washington, the season never started at all.
Rain postponed the Red Sox-Orioles game, but the Mets contest against the Nationals was stopped in its tracks because three Washington players tested positive for COVID-19.
Last postseason ended with Justin Turner of the Dodgers testing positive in Game 6 of the World Series, as MLB got the results just a few innings prior to his team defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win the title. And this is the way MLB’s second season began during life in the time of the coronavirus.
“This is serious stuff,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said during a Zoom session on Thursday night. “It’s about people’s health. These players, obviously they’re very important to me and to our organization, but they’re people. We’ve lost over a half a million people because of this virus. And this is nothing to joke about.”
Even with a much greater base of knowledge and the prospect of every player able to take one of three approved vaccinations in short order, the inherent danger of the virus is still there.
That’s why MLB said the Mets and Nats will not play Friday because of an “abundance of caution,” and later announced the postponement of the teams’ Saturday and Sunday games, as well.
The spread reportedly began when a player tested positive after boarding the team plane. Contact tracing and testing continued Thursday.
“We’re doing extensive contact tracing after the new positive,” Rizzo said. “Our intent was to play, but our real concern is the safety of the players and the fans. We don’t want this thing to spread any further.”
Last year, when the virus limited play to 60 games, 48 were rescheduled because 54 players tested positive. The Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds lost weeks of playing time while COVID caused three other teams to have games postponed.
One of those teams was the Mets, who had four games rescheduled last season, but are at the other end of the spectrum right now.
“This game teaches us that there’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said Thursday. “At the same time, what we’ve gone through since last year, I think that we’re pretty open-minded that things like this can happen. Right now, our sympathies are with the team on the other side, with the Nationals, that things are contained and that everyone’s safe. And then secondly, if we can play on Saturday, we’ll be ready.”
The quick strike of COVID had a ripple effect from east to west.
In San Diego Thursday, Padres general manager A.J. Preller voiced his concerns before his club blew a 6-1 lead to the Arizona Diamondbacks only to come back for an 8-7 win at Petco Park, opening a season of exceedingly high expectations for the local team.
“We’ve all learned that we’re going from day to day,” Preller said. “Every day presents a little bit different challenge. At times we’ve really hammered home to our players and staff that you’ve really got to follow the protocols. You’re never sure that you’re not going to come down with a COVID case, but you can definitely turn the odds in your favor.”
Preller said his attention has now equally turned to having players vaccinated. If 85% do so a team will reach herd immunity and be freed by many of the restrictive protocols.
“We’re talking more and more to our group about it,” Preller said.
In Anaheim, after the Angels came from behind to defeat the White Sox, 4-3, at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles manager Joe Maddon said his club was just about at that magic 85% figure.
“We feel good about it, but nevertheless you can’t let your guard down,” he said. “You’ve got to keep trying to do the right thing. And that’s it.”
Maddon said there was no starker reminder of the hazards than when he awoke Thursday morning to learn what was transpiring 3,000 miles away in Washington.
“Well, it’s serious stuff,” Maddon said, echoing Rizzo. “It just makes this season more difficult. I want to believe that as a country we’re getting over the hump so to speak, and hopefully the entire world. Listen, it is what it is and we’re trying our best not to be impacted by it.
“But when it does occur, scheduling gets skewed, teams and families are at risk. Obviously, it’s not a good thing.”
(This story has been updated to include MLB’s postponement of the remainder of the Mets-Nationals weekend series.)