NEW YORK (AP) – Didi Gregorius stared at the top of his face mask as Washington ace drove to empty outfield seats from Max Schazer’s drive.
Fake cheers – meant to encourage hometown nationals – through the stadium accidentally led to a goal by the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop. After touching home plate, he took Air-Five panting to teammates.
“It’s 2020 baseball,” Scherzer said. “Embrace it and have fun with it.”
Exhibition games on Saturday in Washington, New York and Pittsburgh gave Major League Baseball games of the Coronavirus era – cardboard cutouts for fans, sound effects for the crowd, and more. Still, for clubs limited to practice and intrasquads at their own ballpark for the past two weeks, Saturday stood as an important mile marker, as the game shortened the 60-game season next Thursday amid an epidemic tries to.
“In some ways, this is a dress rehearsal for what we’re doing in the very new world,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before an exhibition at the Crosstown Mets.
No fan gets off the 7 train at Flushing at Citi Field, and no crowd hurries over the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh – not with an MLB plan to start this epidemic-hill season at the vacant stadium. In the national park, many people looked from the balcony of a building far away from the left field wall.
The umpires wore face masks, as did some players. Backups viewed from the stand to maintain social distances in the dugout. They all tried to follow security protocols, including a ban on finger licking or spitting.
Another facelift – The Mets became the first club to sell advertising space on the field, which painted a Ford logo on the back of the mound of the pitch.
Gregorius drilled a three-run homer in the first inning in Washington, the first major flight by a player in any of Saturday’s games.
The 30-year-old Phillies newcomer is one of a handful of players who have said he will wear a full-time mask this season. Gregorius has chronic kidney disorder which makes him at high risk for coronavirus.
Scherzer hopes to throw out the first pitch of the regular season when the Nats host new ace Gerrit Cole and the Yankees on Thursday night. The right-hander struggled in his final tuneup, giving former teammate Bryce Harper a three-run shot.
Having kept Washington in free agency last season, he spoke openly, Harper heard nothing of the sort this time.
For their first performance game since spring training took off since the virus outbreak in mid-March, Yankee players took a team bus from the Bronx to Queens to meet the Mets – no subway for this series.
The pregame routine was familiar enough – Giancarlo Stanton and Pete Alonso, batting practice homers who worked ground balls for Gleiber Torres and Robinson Cano.
The signs of the time were definitely there. Some coaches hit fungus in face masks, and the usual fives and hugs between opponents around the batting cage were replaced by elbow taps and distressed chats – one of which was Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Mr. counterpart Brody Van Wegen was among them.
With fans not filing for the first pitch, nearly 1,000 cardboard likenesses of Mets supporters were established behind home plate. The team plans to open the day to 5,000.
Reserve players both looked under large awnings behind the dugout. The Mets backup gave scheduled starter Rick Porslow a standing ovation as he returned from the bullpen, then “Let’s go, Mets!” Started chanting
The first homer at Flushing also came from a masked player – Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier. The 25-year-old, who says he has taken heat on social media for his decision to cover face all the time, moved a two-run homer to the second deck in the fourth inning.
The Cleveland Indians loaded in three buses on Saturday for a 2-hour-plus drive to Pittsburgh. Manager Terry Fronkona said the team followed social-distance guidelines – and for the team’s first visit since the camp reopened – shocked the arrival time.
“I think it’s a great experience for all of us,” he said. “We are not used to getting on a bus and carrying our temperature and getting things like that, so it’s good to go through that.”
Cleveland made a public display of support for social justice before his 5–3 victory, standing with his right hand over his heart and his left hand on the right shoulder of his teammates during the national anthem.
Some fans gathered outside PNC Park, hoping to catch some sort of sports action.
Michael Kirkpatrick, 73, and his son, Zac, stood on the Clemente Bridge beyond center field – shoulder to shoulder during the 2013 NL wild-card game. This time there is no problem with not getting any place.
Jake said, “I just need to listen to hit a ball.”
In Washington, a moment of silence was organized for the late Civil Rights Trailblazer John Lewis. Players stood out socially for the national anthem – an acoustic rendition by the US Army Brass Quint performed before Game 4 of last year’s World Series and replayed on the video scoreboard.
“It definitely has a different feel to it,” said National Center fielder Michael A. Taylor.
Postgame handshake lines also received shakeups. The Yankees fanned each other outside the dugout after winning 9–3 and Cleveland celebrated their victory by teaming up with teammates.
The Blue Jays were refused approval To play in Toronto due to the need for cross-border travel by the Canadian government.
As far as it can play home games, the team is looking at its spring training site in Dudin, Florida, one of the states most affected by the virus, and its Triple-A site in Buffalo.
The Blue Japs are scheduled to begin July 24 in Tampa Bay. Their home opener was set for five days against Washington.
Back to camp
A pair of All-Stars remain undetermined for the rest of the day – missing Freddy Freeman of Atlanta and DJ Lemahieu of Yanix after missing from the start of Summer Camp due to positive coronovirus tests.
Freeman was in Trist Park on Friday, about an hour after receiving his second negative test for coronovirus, which gave him medical approval to return. On Saturday, the four-time All-Star revealed that he had a temperature of 104.5 degrees and was afraid of losing his life.
“I prayed a little that night,” Freeman said.
LeMahieu attended his first practice on Friday after testing positive at his home in Michigan last month. The three-time Gold Glove winner said it was “shocking” To get results because he had no symptoms.
AP Sportswriters Will Graves and Howard Fendrick and Associated Press writer Rob Gillis contributed to this report.
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