The Phillies had seven games postponed this week due to COVID-19, had two employees record “false positive” coronavirus tests, shut down Citizens Bank Park for two days, quarantined in their homes, and stayed sharp by throwing baseballs against mattresses.
But finally, they were told they would play the Yankees on Monday to end a seven-game layoff. Their week without baseball was over. The Phillies were back.
And then Joe Girardi checked the weather to see how an approaching hurricane could wash away their plans.
“I pulled a video clip of ‘My Cousin Vinny’ when Marisa Tomei was complaining a little bit about her biological time clock,” the Phillies manager said. “Joe Pesci is sitting on the porch. ‘Is there any more you can pile on here?’ You know. That’s what I pulled up today to get a laugh.”
The Phillies returned Saturday afternoon to Citizens Bank Park for their first workout since they locked down the park on Thursday when two employees - a coach and clubhouse staffer - tested positive for COVID-19.
Major League Baseball said Saturday that those two positive tests were false, meaning the Phillies have not had a known exposure to the coronavirus since Sunday’s series finale with Miami. A visiting clubhouse staffer tested positive earlier in the week, but he has not had any contact with the Phillies.
So the Phillies, weather permitting, will play the Yankees on Monday and Tuesday at Yankee Stadium before meeting the Yankees at home on Wednesday and Thursday. A week-long pause that included just three staggered scrimmages will end Monday with a stiff challenge against a powerhouse team and possibly Gerrit Cole, one of baseball’s premier pitchers.
“Well, we knew there were going to be challenges and I give our pitchers credit,” Girardi said. “They’ve kept up trying to do as much as they could by themselves. I’ve heard guys throwing baseballs against mattresses and brick walls on the outside of their homes and wherever they are. It is challenging, but we knew that coming into the season. We knew that we had to be somewhat prepared for anything and I think our guys have done a pretty good job of handling that.”
The Phillies may not have had a week of disarray had last Sunday’s game with Miami been postponed after the Marlins learned that four players in three days tested positive for COVID-19. The Marlins voted to play and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league decided to proceed with the game after conducting contact tracing and temperature checks.
By Monday, the Marlins were isolated in a Center City hotel as their outbreak spread to eventually include 18 players and two coaches.
The league postponed the Marlins and Phillies’ schedules for a week as they tried to determine if the virus spread across the field during Sunday’s game. A game was postponed Friday night between the Cardinals and Brewers after two Cardinals’ players tested positive, but perhaps the Phillies would not have spent a week on pause if the league had been that cautious last weekend.
“I’m not upset with the Marlins,” Girardi said. “Think about how their lives have been turned upside down. Guys are going home on sleeper buses. They can’t go home. All the players are stuck in the hotel here and quarantined for five or six days. The penalty for having it in your clubhouse is really severe and it’s not just someone having it but what everyone else has to go through. I feel for those guys because I know they do have remorse and some of them feel guilty and I don’t think that’s necessarily fair.”
The Cardinals and Brewers were postponed again on Saturday after an additional player and “multiple staff members” tested positive, the league said. The Marlins are scheduled to return on Tuesday in Baltimore, and this week’s originally scheduled series with the Phillies will be rescheduled. Three players — Baltimore pitcher Kohl Stewart, Miami second baseman Isan Diaz, and Milwaukee gold-glove outfielder Lorenzo Cain — have opted out over coronavirus concerns, but Girardi said no Phillies are considering leaving the team.
Manfred, as first reported by ESPN, threatened the players’ union on Friday that he would shut the league down as early as Monday if players ignored protocols and the coronavirus failed to be controlled. He told ESPN on Saturday that “players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now.” So Major League Baseball rolled through the second weekend of the season with 20% of the teams watching from home because of the coronavirus.
“It feels like I’m not managing. It feels like I’m a broadcaster almost because I’m watching games on TV and taking notes, like I did as a broadcaster,” Girardi said. “As far as it being a disadvantage, only time will tell. You don’t know. Because I believe that players have the ability to rise to the occasion all the time and do extraordinary things, and I like our club a lot. I really don’t know. We have 57 games left, and I think there’s 56 days left in the season. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. But it seems the landscape of our game is changing every week and we’re having to overcome some hurdles, so we’re not in this alone. I trust that baseball will do the right thing.”
If the Phillies are to complete a 60-game season by Sept. 27, they’ll have to play 57 games in 56 days. They’ll likely play a sizable amount of seven-inning doubleheaders, which the league implemented on Friday. It will be a grind for them to reach 60 and it starts Monday in the Bronx, weather permitting.