Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to reopening day.
It is so much more warped than opening day because only the really unlucky or possibly undisciplined get to experience a reboot. The Phillies, of course, fall into the unlucky category in more ways than one as they prepare for Monday night’s 7:05 re-opener against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Of all the ballparks in all the towns in all the world, the Miami Marlins had to walk into theirs on the original opening day. Apparently it wasn’t enough for the lowly Marlins to simply beat the Phillies the way they did last season. This season they beat them and also made them join them in sitting out the first full week of the season.
At least it appears as if the Marlins did not spread COVID-19 to the home clubhouse during their three-day stay at Citizens Bank Park that, for them, also turned into an extended quarantine in a Rittenhouse Square hotel. We now know that the two reported positive tests of a Phillies coach and clubhouse attendant were false, but those faulty results have also created another obstacle in maintaining the integrity of a season that has already lost most of its integrity.
Remember, there were also false negatives during summer camp and if they happen to players during the season it will force them to sit out when they did not need to be sidelined. The Phillies, in fact, did not need to postpone their weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, but did so out of caution because of the false negative tests.
“It was really frustrating to see it was two false positives,” Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta said Sunday during a Zoom call after learning that he will make the first re-opening day start of his career Monday night against the Yankees. “The false positives caused us to miss four or five games. That might have been the most frustrating part about the temporary shutdown after the Marlins series, but it is kind of passed us now.”
Give Arrieta and manager Joe Girardi credit for showing restraint about the Phillies’ predicament. Arrieta repeatedly said the Phillies are committed to moving forward despite the bad hand they’ve been dealt. Girardi refused to throw the Marlins under the bus even though there have been reports that some of their players may have failed to follow league-mandated protocols during an exhibition trip to Atlanta last month.
“They had one player who had it and then they traveled and they were on buses and planes and no one knew,” Girardi said during a Zoom call Saturday afternoon. “For me to judge … I could walk in one day and have COVID here and not know it and spread it around. What I hadn’t thought about until I actually witnessed it and talked to people about it, those players and staff members feel a real guilt and remorse [about] something that really couldn’t have been avoided.”
That part is debatable and will depend on what Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Miami outbreak finds. Girardi and Arrieta understand it does no good to reflect on the damage done when the Phillies have a monumental task directly in front of them. The Phillies had enough trouble competing with the Marlins during their original opening weekend and now they must face baseball’s equivalent of a great white shark starting Monday night.
In case you stopped paying attention to the games while the Phillies spent last week testing, quarantining and social distancing, the Yankees shuffled off to Baltimore when they found out they could not play at Citizens Bank Park. They scored 17 runs in two games at Camden Yards and 19 more while sweeping a three-game series from their hated rival Boston over the weekend. The Yanks are 7-1 overall and have won six in a row.
During their six-game winning streak, they have hit 15 home runs, including six by Aaron Judge in the last five games. The bullpen has allowed 13 hits and five earned runs in 29 innings during the Yankees’ winning streak. The Phillies’ bullpen, by contrast, allowed eight earned runs on 14 hits in 11 2/3 innings during their disastrous season-opening series with the Marlins. Nothing in this tainted season is going to be more important than a team’s bullpen and in the first three games the Phillies’ relief corps went from a question mark to a giant question mark.
The even worse news for the Phillies is that they will face Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in their re-opener. Cole, who signed with New York for nine years and $324 million during the offseason, is 37-10 with a 2.69 ERA since the start of the 2018 season.
Speaking of the Yankees, how different would the narrative of the first full week of the season have been if they were the team that had the COVID-19 outbreak or even if they endured what the Phillies have through no fault of their own? The demands for commissioner Rob Manfred to pause the season would have been a lot louder and probably would have been heeded.
Instead baseball marched on without the Phillies and Marlins, then watched the St. Louis Cardinals experience a COVID-19 outbreak of their own, which forced the postponement of a weekend series against the Brewers in Milwaukee.