How baseball made it through its best, worst, smartest, dumbest and scariest season ever


The weirdest, strangest, wackiest, smartest, stupidest, greatest, worst season in baseball historical past is lastly over — and it is not clear if we needs to be comfortable or unhappy. Main League Baseball introduced us a lot pleasure, but in addition such a big measure of ache.

So all we are able to hope, for therefore many causes nicely past the good recreation of baseball, is that we by no means must undergo this once more.

It was an important season as a result of, miraculously, it was accomplished. It began with Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto testing optimistic for COVID-19 a number of hours earlier than the season opener, and it ended with Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner being eliminated within the eighth inning of Sport 6 of the World Sequence due to a optimistic check for the coronavirus. In between, in late July, the Miami Marlins had an outbreak. Quickly after, so did the St. Louis Cardinals. It almost destroyed their seasons — and the seasons of each staff.

But the trade of baseball, particularly the gamers, confirmed nice self-discipline in following well being and security protocols, permitting the sport to succeed in late October in a single piece. We arrived there partly due to “the bubble,” seven-inning doubleheaders, putting a runner at second to start out the 10th inning of a tie recreation and using a common designated hitter.

It was a distinct recreation — some cherished it, others did not. We did all set profession information for occasions utilizing the phrase “truncated.”

It was a great season because of the team storylines. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series for the first time since 1988, and they came back to win from a 3-1 deficit (against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series) for the first time in franchise history.

They came back from one of the worst losses in World Series annals, that magical Sport Four loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Clayton Kershaw had an exceptional World Series (though not quite as good as Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, the series MVP), ending the ridiculous narrative that he doesn’t have the stomach for a big game. He has pitched in 11 postseason elimination games, six as a starter, and has more strikeouts (207) than any pitcher in postseason history.

The Rays, with the third-lowest payroll in the majors, made it to the World Series despite not having one pitcher quality for the ERA title (60 innings), in the regular season, and in the postseason, having a run differential of minus-2, and going 19-for-103 runners in scoring position.

The Rays don’t have the best players, but they play the game better than any team in an era when some teams don’t play the game very well. And even in losing the World Series, Tampa shined with its toughness, talent and tenacity, never clearer than how it somehow came back to win that unforgettable Game 4.

The Marlins made the playoffs — and won a series — despite their coronavirus outbreak. They used nine starting pitchers and 27 different pitchers in the first nine games of the season; they used 61 players in 60 games; they made 23 roster moves in one day. Manager Don Mattingly said it was a “slight exaggeration” that he met some of his players for the first time when he went to the mound to make a pitching change, but said he had “no thought what to anticipate” from five of his players because he’d never seen them play.

It was a great season because of the player storylines. Rays infielder Mike Brosseau acknowledged that he “wasn’t an important participant in highschool.” He was an undrafted free agent who, through perseverance, made it to the big leagues. Then, in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, he hit a go-ahead home run against a pitcher — Aroldis Chapman — who had nearly taken his head off with a pitch six weeks earlier. Rays teammate Kevin Kiermaier said of Brosseau: “I like that man. And [Rays catcher] Mike Zunino referred to as that homer. He stated it will be the best second within the historical past of the planet.”

Rays rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena defected from Cuba at age 20, spending eight hours in a small boat. He played in Mexico, then signed with the Cardinals. Still, he was considered to be an afterthought (though not by the Rays) in a trade in January. Then Arozarena set a record for most home runs (10) and most hits (29) in any postseason, prompting songful chants of “Hey, Arozarena.”

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Jeff Passan rewrites the ’90s hit “Macarena” centered on Rays breakout star Randy Arozarena.

His story can solely occur in baseball. In basketball, no participant comes out of the G League, leads his staff in scoring and takes it to the NBA Finals.

It was an important season as a result of the video games, regardless of many imperfections, have been nice. And there have been so a lot of them: 54 playoff video games in all.

On Sept. 30, there have been eight playoff video games, which I jokingly referred to as “the greatest day of my whole life,” which really prompted a number of folks to marvel aloud how I may place a day of playoff baseball over the beginning of our two youngsters. I used to be kidding!

We had the good Sport 2 of the Padres-Cardinals wild-card sequence, when San Diego, on the verge of being eradicated, overcame a four-run deficit and have become the primary staff to hit 5 house runs after the sixth inning of a postseason recreation, together with a memorable blast (and bat flip) by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.

We had the 2-1 victory by the Rays over the Yankees (Brosseau’s house run) in Sport 5 of the ALDS. We had two Sport 7s within the LCS, the primary time that has occurred since 2004. The Houston Astros grew to become the second staff ever to power a Sport 7 after happening 3-Zero in a sequence. And Sport 7 of the NLCS, a 4-Three victory by the Dodgers over the Braves, was an October basic that Cody Bellinger gained with a house run within the seventh inning.

And, after all, Sport Four of the World Sequence was marvelous, with the wildest ending to any World Sequence recreation in historical past. It was the primary World Sequence recreation to function three lead modifications from the sixth inning on. The ultimate one got here when the Rays’ Brett Phillips, in his third profession at-bat within the postseason, obtained his first hit, a single that tied the rating, giving him his second RBI since July 27. On the play, the Dodgers grew to become the primary staff in World Sequence historical past to make two errors (by heart fielder Chris Taylor and catcher Will Smith) on a play that resulted in a walk-off loss, permitting Arozarena, who fell rounding third, to attain.

“That final play,” stated the Rays’ Brandon Lowe, “I misplaced 10 years off my life.”

It was an important season as a result of we obtained a greater take a look at the curveball of Astros left-hander Framber Valdez. We obtained our first good take a look at the Braves’ Ian Anderson, who joined Christy Mathewson (1905) as the one pitchers to not permit a run of their first three postseason begins. Anderson grew to become the primary rookie pitcher within the historical past of the Braves (that is Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta) to win a postseason begin. Then fellow rookies Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson grew to become the second and the third.

We noticed a 458-foot homer by the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton; they should have measured that one from second base. We noticed a 487-foot blast by the White Sox’s Luis Robert. We noticed good protection, particularly from Dodgers proper fielder Mookie Betts. We additionally noticed it from the infield of the Rays.

We had Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner sporting a microphone in a playoff recreation, throughout which he stated teammate A.J. Pollock sometimes picked up foul balls down the left-field line after which fired them at cutout figures within the stands, a recreation they referred to as “Down The Clown.”

It was an important season as a result of within the NLCS, Dodgers catcher Will Smith homered off Braves reliever Will Smith. In Game 3 of the World Series, to the delight of fans of “The Andy Griffith Present,” Ryan Sherriff faced Chris Taylor for the first Sherriff-Taylor at-bat.

We spent time with Astros manager Dusty Baker, who lamented that COVID-19, among other things, kept him from going out to dinner on the road.

“I might look in my pockets,” Dusty stated, “and think, ‘Hey, this is the same money I had in here yesterday.'”

When requested by a younger reporter concerning the energy of Baker’s diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve, Dusty in contrast Altuve to Mighty Mouse, then realized that the reporter seemingly had no thought who Mighty Mouse was.

“Google Mighty Mouse,” Baker stated, “He was a bad dude.”

And but regardless of all that greatness, it nonetheless felt completely different all season, proper to the top. It simply wasn’t the identical with out a canine pile on the pitcher’s mound after the ultimate out, with out 50,000 followers shaking the house ballpark, with out champagne soaking everybody in sight. There’ll eternally be an imaginary asterisk subsequent to the 2020 season however it’s absurd to, in any manner, invalidate the championship by the Dodgers, who went 56-22 within the common season and postseason and have been clearly the very best within the recreation from the pitch of the season to the final.

October was super, however it was mildly uncomfortable that two groups, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Astros, made the playoffs with sub-.500 information, doubling the variety of sub-.500 groups to make the playoffs in baseball historical past. The Brewers did not spend a day above .500 all season. They hit .223 as a staff, which might have been the bottom staff batting common ever by a playoff staff besides that two different groups this 12 months, the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs, had decrease batting averages.

Certainly, the 5 lowest batting averages by groups ever to make the playoffs all got here this season.

However solely the Reds completed the season with extra walks than singles, a primary in historical past. They did not rating a run in 22 innings within the postseason.

The condensed schedule and expanded roster lessened much more the worth of beginning pitchers and elevated bullpen use, which could not be an important thought. Within the postseason, 466 1/Three innings have been thrown by starters, 468 2/Three innings have been thrown by relievers, a hard pattern within the sport that was by no means extra evident than in Sport 6 of the World Sequence when the Rays pulled starter Blake Snell after 73 pitches — although he had struck out 9 of the 18 hitters he confronted and had allowed only one hard-hit ball.

And there may be this: On Oct. 2 in opposition to the Cardinals, the Padres grew to become the primary staff ever — common season or postseason — to throw a nine-inning shutout whereas utilizing 9 pitchers.

Of their six playoff video games, the Padres used eight, 9, 9, 9, 5 and 11 pitchers. That is 51 pitchers, by far essentially the most utilized in any six-game stretch in historical past. In Sport 5, a possible clincher within the NLCS, the Braves began A.J. Minter, who hadn’t began a recreation since school; he had by no means gotten six outs in any outing in his four-year main league profession. After which he grew to become the primary pitcher in postseason historical past to strike out seven in an look of three innings. In Sport 2 and Sport 6 of the World Sequence, the Dodgers, regardless of their nice depth of beginning pitching, employed a bullpen recreation; starter Tony Gonsolin was requested to face solely six hitters.

Bob Gibson wouldn’t have authorised. That brings us to the worst a part of baseball in 2020; we misplaced Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford and Joe Morgan. For baseball followers my age (63), they have been our childhood. They have been our baseball heroes. They confirmed us play the sport. After Morgan died, Corridor of Fame catcher and former teammate Johnny Bench requested, “How much more gut-wrenching can this get?”

It was a difficult season because Cleveland Indians manager Tito Francona, who makes us laugh and smile, missed 48 games, including the postseason, due to illness.

Altuve briefly got the yips; he made four throwing errors in one series after not making a throwing error all season. There were too many homers and too many strikeouts. At one point in the LCS round, the home run rate (15.5%) was the same as Willie McCovey’s career home run rate, and the strikeout rate (23%) was the same as Roger Clemens’ career strikeout rate.

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Jeff Passan explains how Justin Turner made his way back to the field after being pulled midgame for a positive COVID-19 test.

The Braves and Reds, in the wild-card round, set a record for strikeouts (37) in a postseason game. It was also the first postseason game to be scoreless through 12 innings.

There was some atrocious baserunning in the postseason, including in Game 7 of the NLCS when the Braves, with runners on second and third and no one out against the Dodgers, somehow ran themselves into a double play on a ground ball, the first time any team had done that in that situation since the New York Mets in July 2019. However these Mets weren’t one victory away from going to the World Sequence for the primary time since 1999.

Selfishly, it was a tough season for me as a result of I missed my first World Sequence recreation since 1981. I watched all of the postseason video games from Convention Room 8/1-113, subsequent to the ESPN cafeteria. I watched with teammates from Baseball Tonight — Karl Ravech and Mark Teixeira. It was nice enjoyable, however it wasn’t the identical as really being on the World Sequence.

Nothing was the identical this season. Nothing was straightforward this 12 months. The whole lot was exhausting. Nonetheless, we must always all be grateful that the season was accomplished with a memorable October. However please, in 2021, grant us higher well being, 162 video games, followers within the stands, all nine-inning video games, no runner positioned at second within the 10th inning, no bubble in October and a seat in a rocking house ballpark, not the ESPN cafeteria, for the World Sequence.





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