An unprecedented pandemic-shortened Major League Baseball season has produced a classic World Series matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers that starts on Tuesday in Arlington, Texas.
A shortened season that saw clubs play 60 games rather than the usual 162 was a sprint to an expanded playoffs in which the increased number of teams and a best-of-five early-round format opened the door for potential upsets.
In a bid to keep the breakneck schedule on track, tradition-bound baseball instituted rule changes including starting extra innings with a runner on second base in a bid to keep games shorter.
Designated hitters, usually allowed only in the American League, were allowed in National League parks as well.
Things got off to a rocky start, with early outbreaks forcing delays for the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who nevertheless were in playoff contention as the shortened regular-season drew to a close.
Overall, MLB and the players union announced last week, 21 clubs had either a player or staff member test positive over the course of a testing program that had conducted 169,143 tests as of October 16.
Fifty-seven players had tested positive at some point, but as of last week there had been no new positive tests for 47 consecutive days.
“It was weird,” said the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who delivered a home run that proved the difference in Los Angeles’ 4-3 game-seven victory over Atlanta in the NL Championship Series, said of the early-season uncertainties.
“There were some days that you would go work out, and you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t even know if we’re going to have a season this year,’ and then you’d read up on social media and OK, it’s good. We’re going to have a season.
“Then (to) just kind of go back and forth, back and forth — it’s jut so unique. And you hope you don’t ever have to deal with this again.”
Tampa Bay pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who will start game one for the Rays against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, missed the first 11 days of pre-season training camp after testing positive for Covid-19.
The 26-year-old said he briefly lost his sense of taste and smell, but otherwise felt only mild, cold-like symptoms.
“It’s been a pretty long while since I felt like a normal person,” Glasnow said as he looked ahead to his game one start.
After launching the season in ballparks around the country, MLB placed the League Championship Series and the World Series in restricted “bubbles,” the ALCS in California and the NLCS and World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington — where the first spectators of the season were allowed for the NLCS and where 11,500 fans will be scattered around a stadium that can seat more than 40,000.
– ‘weird year’ –
Kershaw said the extended time together had made a tight-knit Dodgers team even closer in a “weird year.”
“We’ve been in a hotel bubble together it’s going to be a month after the World Series,” Kershaw said. “Getting to see day-to-day life, waking up in a room next to a guy, watching your kids play together, you become closer through that,” he said.
Dodgers infielder Justin Turner said he thought baseball’s arrival at the World Series is “a testament to players being responsible and making good choices.”
The entire, almost experimental enterprise has yielded a World Series clash between the two teams with the best records in baseball, the 43-17 NL champion Dodgers and the 40-20 AL champion Rays.
“I guess when you’re on this road to win a World Series, you know you’ve got to beat the best to be the best, and that’s what this World Series is going to be about,” Turner said.
“The two best records going at it, and it should be a good series.”