The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays last night by a score of 3-1, finally succeeding in winning their first World Series title since 1988.
1988...that was a long, long time ago. Ronald Reagan was president. The Rangers were still playing in Arlington Stadium, and had 22 year old Ruben Sierra playing right field for them. Larry Parrish, Oddibe McDowell, Pete Incaviglia, and Charlie Hough were all Rangers. Jeff Russell was still a starter.
The Dodgers had been very successful of late — they’ve only had one losing season in the 21st century, and this is the eighth straight year they’ve made the playoffs — but they could not get over the hump. Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of our generation, developed a reputation for being unable to get the job done in the playoffs. They lost to the Trash Can Bangin’ Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series, then the Alex Cora-led, maybe possibly cheating Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series — two defeats that had to have been especially bitter in the aftermath of this past winter’s cheating revelations.
But the Dodgers finally won the last game of the season. In a weird, shortened season played during a pandemic, with different rules in the regular season and expanded playoffs, the two best teams in the league met in the World Series, and the best team prevailed.
And because this is 2020, minutes after the game was over, we had a COVID-19 issue raise its head.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was replaced in the eighth inning of last night’s game by Kike Hernandez. On the telecast and on Twitter, the move prompted mystified reactions, folks wondering if Turner had strained a muscle or had otherwise had some physical issue that necessitated him being removed from the game — it wasn’t a move that would be made for defensive purposes, as putting Hernandez in the game at second base and Edwin Rios in at third base (with second baseman Chris Taylor moving to left field) didn’t upgrade the LAD defense.
It was only after the game was over, and the Dodgers were on the field celebrating, that MLB announced that Turner had tested positive for COVID-19, and had been pulled from game for that reason.
And while folks were still reeling from that revelation, out onto the field to join the celebration came...Justin Turner. He was masked up,* but at a time when CDC guidelines indicate he should be isolated, he opted to join his teammates in celebrating the World Series win.
* In response to 1) the sarcastic “I thought masks were foolproof!” comments and the related 2) “you can still catch/spread COVID-19 if you’re wearing a mask so why bother?” comments from the Mask Truthers I’m sure will show up in the comments section here...masks aren’t 100% reliable. Neither are condoms. It doesn’t mean you don’t wear them, though, since they greatly reduce risk.
Jeff Passan’s story on this bizarre — and all to apropos — ending to the 2020 season walks through the events and timeline of the testing, indicating that there was an inconclusive test for Turner prior to the game, leading to a re-test of a sample from earlier in the week that came back positive. While it can be argued that Turner shouldn’t have been allowed to play with an inconclusive test, MLB has not generally required inconclusive tests — in the absence of other positive tests among the team or contact with someone known to be positive or having been exposed — to be treated as positives. Instead, players with an inconclusive test get re-tested.
Turner has said that he feels fine, has no symptoms, and it could well be that this is a false positive. Or it could be that he does in fact have COVID-19 and is asymptomatic right now. We will find out in the coming days.
In the meantime, MLB ends its season the way it began its season — with COVID-19 controversy. When the truncated 2020 season began in July, an outbreak among the Miami Marlins during the very first series of the season, and MLB’s failure to promptly act at that time, led to (quite reasonable) fears that there was no way this season would be able to occur. An outbreak soon thereafter among the St. Louis Cardinals heightened those fears — early on, the season being canceled due to an inability to protect players and staffers from infection felt like an inevitability.
But MLB tightened protocols, players and organizations took those protocols much more seriously, MLB was aggressive in postponing games and requiring isolation after positive tests among teams, and the season, miraculously, ended up going forward without any further major issues. Worries that teams wouldn’t be able to play the full 60 games, that there would end up being teams playing only 45 or 50 games, causing competitive imbalance, ended up being moot — every team played 60 games except the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals, who played 58.
MLB implemented a bubble system for the playoffs, but prior to that, they relied on teams and individuals following protocols and keeping safe. And they went two months without a positive test.
Its just one more reminder that things aren’t normal now, that we are in the midst of a pandemic that has impacted every area of life.
And it leads one to wonder what things will be like come February, when pitchers and catchers report. Will teams be required to be bubbled in spring training? Will there be fans in the stands? Will the 2021 schedule have to be revised, like 2020 was, to minimize travel? Will teams continue to be tested every other day, with games postponed in the event of a positive test?
Those are questions that I had hoped we would be asking a little later, after the post-playoff glow had died down and the offseason was underway. Instead, they are now front and center.