If anything happened this baseball season that began with longer odds against it than Alec Mills’ no-hitter a couple weeks ago, it was Sunday.
All of Sunday. The fact that 30 teams remained intact on the final day of a nine-week undertaking like nothing seen in 145 years of major-league baseball.
Despite every-other-day COVID-19 testing, safety protocols that included masks and lockdown conditions on the road and despite two large-scale, early-season outbreaks, every team played at least 58 of its 60 games, and only the Cardinals and Tigers didn’t play 60.
“You come into this weird situation that we’ve had for the last couple months, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced — that goes for throughout the world,” 15-year veteran pitcher Jon Lester said. “For us to be able to get through a baseball like we were able to and I think provide some entertainment for the country, provide maybe some escape from what’s going on, is huge.”
Huge? The Cubs were the only team that didn’t have a player test positive from the start of intake testing. And along the way won their third National League Central title in five years.
“I’m really proud of everyone just buying in,” said tenured veteran Anthony Rizzo, who led the dugout amusement program and distraction efforts to help navigate the strange times.
“We just kind of put all the things happening this year behind us and just went out there and played baseball, and tried to provide entertainment for everybody out there,” said Kris Bryant, who struggled with slumps and injuries before returning from a tight oblique to homer twice and drive in six runs the last two games.
“I’m very proud of the group and how we battled through all this craziness we’re going through every day,” he said, adding of the division title: “It certainly feels really special.
Bryant and teammate Yu Darvish said in July they had considered opting out because of the risk and their families, and baseball’s intake testing program had so many delays and glitches the first week that several star players in baseball blasted the system.
Then almost as soon as the season started, the Marlins and Cardinals had massive outbreaks that shut down their seasons for more than a week each.
“The mental aspect of this season is something that I don’t think we talk about enough with what these guys are having to go through every day,” first-year manager David Ross said.
“It definitely takes a toll. It is a frustration over time,” he added. “The fans, for one, take a lot away. … And we’ve got guys that work here every day that are getting close to 90 days without seeing their wife or kids. That’s a humongous challenge.”
The Cubs finished with 34 wins — a 92-win equivalent for a full season. Their long-slumbering hitting awoke for 25 runs during a series win over the White Sox to finish the season. And Darvish might even win a Cy Young Award for some of his impressive numbers in 12 starts this season.
But their most impressive number is the zero positive coronavirus tests among the players.
“Getting to this point, completing 60 games in the middle of a pandemic is a real accomplishment, and a lot of people have a lot to be proud of,” team president Theo Epstein said, emphasizing the sacrifices and burdens of families as well as players and staff.
“There certainly was uncertainty and some trepidation as we started, and concerned for everybody’s well-being. The fact that it hasn’t been perfect — nothing in 2020 has been perfect — but getting through this season means a lot.”