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Angels win, but coronavirus still playing havoc with MLB

Los Angeles Times — Bill Shaikin Los Angeles Times

Aug. 01--The two oldest managers in baseball trudged ahead Saturday at Angel Stadium. Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros is 71, and a cancer survivor. Joe Maddon of the Angels is 66. Each would be at high risk were he to contract the novel coronavirus.

"At the end of the day, it's about good health," Maddon said. "We can't enjoy anything in our life without that."

For a day, the Angels (3-6) could enjoy a victory. After closer Hansel Robles blew the save by giving up two home runs in the ninth inning, Michael Hermosillo's walkoff sacrifice fly gave the Angels a 5-4 victory in 10 innings.

Robles' earned-run average this season is 22.09, and he has given up three home runs in 3 2/3 innings. Robles last season had a 2.48 ERA, and he gave up six home runs in 72 2/3 innings.

On the day after television networks were alerted that Commissioner Rob Manfred might call off the season as soon as Monday, Manfred said the season would go on, with a comment that further strained the relationship of the players with a commissioner that this spring referred to the World Series championship trophy as a "piece of metal."

The Miami Marlins, idle for a week because the virus infected half their roster, are scheduled to resume play Tuesday. The Philadelphia Phillies, also idle for a week because they shared the field with the Marlins last Sunday, are scheduled to resume play Monday.

"The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general," Manfred told Karl Ravech of ESPN, "and there is no reason to quit now."

On Saturday, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, one of the brightest stars in the league, opted out of the season, citing "all of the uncertainty and the unknowns surrounding our game at this time."

Infielder Isan Diaz, one of the relatively few uninfected Marlins, opted out too.

"This has been a tough week for me to see so many of my teammates come down with this virus, and see how quickly it spreads," Diaz said. He called the decision to opt out "difficult" but "the best one for me and my overall well-being."

Also Saturday, the Boston Red Sox announced that pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who had contracted COVID-19, would sit out the rest of the season so he could recover from the resulting heart inflammation. Death is not the only risk of the virus.

Six teams did not play Saturday because of the virus. The Phillies, for instance, could play 57 games in 56 days, after a week that included off days, quarantine days and workout days. There is a risk factor here too, independent of the virus.

"If we're going to follow the party line as the health of the players is paramount, then I think we really have to take a hard look on how much recovery time and practice time that we need," Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price told The Athletic.

On Saturday, the league issued a statement that said: "MLB will continue to follow a conservative approach in addressing positive test results because the health and safety of our players, employees and the public at large is paramount."

The league shut down the Phillies for a week after concern the virus might have skipped across the field, from the Marlins to the Phillies. No Phillies players have tested positive, but two St. Louis Cardinals players have. Yet, in its statement Saturday afternoon, the league called off the Cardinals' game in Milwaukee for Saturday but not for Sunday.

Later Saturday, the league said the Cardinals would not play Sunday but would travel to Detroit and play Tuesday.

The safe play, Emory University epidemiologist Dr. Zach Binney said, would be to "quarantine everybody for at least 5-7 days from the last time they had contact with one another and the virus could have spread." That would mean shutting down the Cardinals until at least midweek.

Manfred's comment about the players needing "to be better" infuriated Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who said that Manfred's playbook had three plays: "take no risk yourself; blame everything on the players; protect TV revenue at all costs."

The league could have tried a bubble format, like the NBA and NHL, but many players made clear they had no interest in isolating away from their families all summer, for longer than the NBA and NHL players will need to do. The players got their wish, and so Manfred simply is demanding they live up to the responsibility of traveling around the country during a pandemic: go to the ballpark, the hotel, your home, and nowhere else.

The Marlins' outbreak originated when two players went out on the town, according to what triple-A Las Vegas Aviators President Don Logan said he was told by a former employee, Marlins trainer Brad LaRosa.

"Two players that didn't pay attention, that didn't understand, go out and cause all this grief," Logan told PBS Las Vegas.

Justin Turner, the Dodgers' player representative, texted SportsNet LA a list of seven ways the Dodgers players themselves would reinforce the league's health and safety protocols.

The players need to be better, but so does the communication from the league. Manfred has not held a news conference since the league originally shut down in March. Neither has Dr. Gary Green, the league's medical director, although the NFL has made its medical director readily accessible.

However, in the wake of the Marlins' outbreak, Green told the New York Times last Thursday: "Twenty-nine out of 30 is a pretty good batting average."

That apparent hubris became an MLB talking point last week, that players on only one team had contracted the virus. But the virus does not care about your batting average, and the Cardinals had two players test positive the very next day.

The Cardinals do not know when they are scheduled to resume play. The Phillies do, but they might not get in a full week of games this week either: A hurricane is bearing down on the East Coast.

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