Every hallway, clubhouse corner, stairwell — and certainly the weight room in the tunnel behind the dugout — was a reminder for Cubs manager David Ross and nine of his players of the pinnacle moment in Cubs franchise history as they returned to Cleveland on Tuesday.
But 2016 was a long-distant memory compared to everything else about Cleveland, this two-game series and the opponent when it came to in-your-face reminders for the Cubs on Tuesday.
“On the one hand, you feel sorry for the guy,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “And on the other hand, you’re kind of like, `You knew the rules and you broke them.’
“It’s another one of those reminders about how serious this is.”
Ross was talking about Cleveland pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac, who broke league and team COVID-19 protocols when they snuck out of their Chicago hotel last weekend to go out to dinner. Plesac was caught that night and sent back to Cleveland by car; Clevinger stayed silent about being out with Plesac until he was caught after flying back home with the club.
Both have been isolated from the team and on Tuesday put on the restricted list.
It was the elephant in the room when it came to everything about the Cubs’ return to play after four days off thanks to the Cardinals’ ongoing coronavirus outbreak — if not the elephant in the room for every team in baseball this season.
“Guys make mistakes. it happens,” said Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis, former Cleveland teammate of both pitchers. “If I were to guess, they’re probably not the only ones who have gone out. Probably just two that have gotten caught. Just a hunch is what I’m thinking. Around the league, it looks like it’s just happening. I think that’s how stuff happened with St. Louis and Miami [outbreaks] from the sounds of it. So I don’t want to come down on them too much.”
But it’s hard to get past the irresponsibility to the rest of the team when it comes to players who do that — especially after the two outbreaks that led to at least 35 combined cases among the Marlins and Cardinals.
Especially considering Cleveland teammate Carlos Carrasco — who faces the Cubs Wednesday — battled leukemia just last summer, returning in September and who remains on medication, among the handful of MLB players considered high-risk for severe symptoms or death if contracting COVID-19.
“It just takes an extra level of accountability and responsibility this year to hold strong and not give in to any urges to go out or to maybe fight the boredom,” said Kipnis, a close friend of Carrasco who remains in regular touch with the pitcher. “It’s not easy. it’s not easy at all times. That’s about all I’ll say. I don’t want to comment on their stuff.”
But that’s the thing: This isn’t just “their stuff.”
The Cardinals’ “stuff” became the Cubs’ “stuff” when their series was wiped out over the weekend because of the Cards’ outbreak. And if Clevinger’s silence and willingness to remain exposed to teammates even after Plesac was sent home led to an outbreak and, in turn, another team getting the virus — that quickly becomes everybody’s “stuff.”
Nobody knows whether Cleveland's protocol perps were exposed to anything while sneaking out. They’ll have to be monitored and repeatedly tested before they’re cleared.
As Kipnis suggested, their behavior does not appear to be isolated, the Marlins and Cardinals notwithstanding. MLB instituted additional restrictions and stepped-up requirements to adhere to league protocols last week.
As Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week: “Every team, and even the league — we’re only as good as our weakest link.”
Plesac and Clevinger released statements in recent days about their mistakes, Plesac vowing “to earn my teammates’ forgiveness,” Clevinger admitting he “broke that trust” with teammates during this season during a pandemic.
Clevinger's replacement in the rotation Tuesday, Adam Plutko, had harsh things to say about both teammates following the Cubs' 7-1 win Tuesday night, offering at least a glimpse into that clubhouse:
"They hurt us bad. They lied to us," Plutko said. "They sat here in front of [media] and publicly said things that they didn't follow through on. It's going to be up to them. I'll let them sit here and tell you how they're going to earn their trust back. I don't need to put words in their mouths.
"The term that I continue to hear -- and excuse my language -- is 'grown-ass man.' So those grown-ass men can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they're going to do to fix it. I don't need to do that for them."
But nobody said it better than Cleveland’s All-Star shortstop, Francisco Lindor:
“It’s not about that one person,” Lindor said. “It’s about everybody around you: the family members, the coaching staff, Carrasco, all the players on teams that are high-risk. We’re in a time right now with COVID, with racism, with everything — this is a time to be selfless.”
For more than 1,000 players who already have been on big-league rosters this season and those yet to be added, that is proving to be the biggest ask of all. The mission-impossible task when it comes to getting the 100-percent compliance — or close enough to it — to make this season last the full two months plus playoffs.
“I don’t know that you always look at consequences, right?” said Ross, whose team remains the only one without a player yet testing positive for the virus since teams restarted. “Like I don’t think my children when they make mistakes look at the consequences before they do something. We’ve got enough on our plate on a daily basis that I can’t really worry about what the rest of the league is doing, even though it affects us.
“It’s just another reminder of how well our guys are doing. And we have to continue to stay strong.”