After seven days — twice the length of a typical All-Star break — without playing, the Phillies began their first road trip of the season by giving saliva samples and getting seat assignments on a caravan of buses that traveled 108 miles, bypassed the team hotel, and ended up at Yankee Stadium about 5½ hours before Gerrit Cole’s first pitch.
That’s pandemic baseball in 2020.
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These are “weird times,” as pitcher Jake Arrieta said the other day. Nobody will dispute that. But the weirdness meter has been turned up for the Phillies, who came back from a weeklong layoff caused by circumstances out of their control to face not only the hottest team in baseball but arguably the best pitcher in the game, too.
Everything that happened, then, in a rain-interrupted 6-3 loss to the Yankees must be viewed through that prism.
The Yankees won their seventh consecutive game; in seven days last week, the Phillies worked out as a team only three times. So if Arrieta missed with a few pitches in his five innings, and if the Phillies struggled to come up with big hits against Cole, well, there was a reasonable explanation.
“Considering we haven’t played in a while, I thought we played a pretty clean game,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought we swung the bats well. I thought for the most part we pitched pretty well. I hate to lose, but considering what we’ve been through, I thought our guys played a pretty good game.”
Indeed, the Phillies hung with the Yankees for five innings before a familiar problem reared its head.
With Arrieta limited to five innings in his first start of the season — and his first game action since a July 22 intrasquad scrimmage — the first reliever out of the bullpen couldn’t keep it close. Like Ramon Rosso on opening night and Cole Irvin two days later, Deolis Guerra got roughed up.
Guerra issued a leadoff walk, hit a batter, and gave up a three-run home run to Gio Urshela that stretched a 3-1 edge into a 6-1 chasm.
“I think it’s really hard to judge our bullpen right now just because we haven’t played in a week,” Girardi said. “I think you have to give each guy three to four appearances to be fair to them with consistent work. I think they need some consistent work before we really make a judgment.”
Arrieta gave up opposite-field leadoff home runs to DJ LeMahieu in the first inning and Brett Gardner on a change-up in the third and back-to-back two-out doubles to scorching-hot Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks in the third inning.
But he also worked his sinker to get seven ground-ball outs and gave the Phillies about as much as they could have asked given the circumstances.
“If I had a start under my belt, I probably would’ve been able to go back out for the sixth inning,” Arrieta said. “But I understand it. I had more in the tank. Under the circumstances, Joe and [pitching coach Bryan Price] thought it was the right way to go, and I stand behind those guys.”
The circumstances, Arrieta said, have “been tough on all of us.” The Phillies had seven consecutive games postponed last week after a COVID-19 outbreak infected 20 members of the Miami Marlins’ traveling party in Philadelphia and a visiting clubhouse attendant.
While they waited through false positives involving a coach and a home clubhouse attendant, the Phillies didn’t have access to Citizens Bank Park for four days, leaving players to work out on their own. Arrieta long-tossed at a field near his house with reliever Tommy Hunter; first baseman Rhys Hoskins hit off a tee in his yard.
“Not ideal,” Hoskins said.
If the Phillies are angry, though, they have mostly opted to take the high road. There’s little doubt that they were frustrated, proof of which could be found on left-fielder Andrew McCutchen’s Twitter feed.
But Girardi characterized the Marlins’ contagion as “a great wake-up call for baseball,” a reminder that any deviation from MLB’s 113 pages of protocols could threaten not only one team’s fortunes but the entire house of cards upon which this season-within-a-pandemic is built.
There weren’t any complaints, then, when the Phillies received what Girardi termed as “care packages” that included masks and sanitary wipes. Nor did any players gripe when they were separated on the team buses such that the entire infield, outfield and pitching staff wouldn’t be within contact-tracing distance of one another in case of an outbreak.
“I think guys understand,” Girardi said. “Our guys have really bought into anything we’ve asked them to do. They know it’s for their own health, it’s for the health of this club, and for us to continue, we need to stay this way. There has been no pushback.”
Girardi had hoped a return to action would bring “some normalcy” to the season. No such luck. Tuesday night’s game was postponed even before Monday night’s began, a preemptive strike with a tropical-storm warning set for the area as a result of Hurricane Isaias.
So, rather than checking into a hotel in midtown Manhattan after the game — and using the wipes in those care packages to sanitize the rooms that they aren’t supposed to leave except to go to the ballpark — the Phillies got back on their buses and took a late-night ride home.
The Phillies and Yankees will play a doubleheader Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. In an oddity, the Phillies’ next 13 games — and 16 of their first 17 — will be played at home.
Just another weird 2020 twist.