- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2020

So much about the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be irregular, from the COVID-19 protocols to the 60-game schedule to the universal designated hitter. If there’s at least one thing sports fans can count on being the same, it’s the threat of weather delays.

Thunder, lightning and buckets of rain interrupted what was supposed to be baseball’s triumphant return from the coronavirus pandemic in the nation’s capital Thursday night. After about two hours in delay, the game was called: The New York Yankees beat the Washington Nationals, 4-1, in five innings.

It was an undesirable end to an already chaotic day: Nationals star Juan Soto received a positive test for COVID-19 that precluded him from playing; both teams participated in a moment of silence before the game that included kneeling on behalf of Black victims of violence; and the league announced a last-minute expansion of this season’s playoffs from 10 teams to 16.

After all that, the Nationals lost their chance to come back from a three-run deficit when the game was called. Because at least five innings were completed, it counted as an official game.

“That’s 2020 in a nutshell,” Sean Doolittle said.

Doolittle added the team was holding out hope that Soto’s test was a false positive. Reports said Soto had multiple “rapid” tests come back negative.

Nearly lost in the proceedings: The Nationals raised their 2019 World Series pennant, celebrating the championship without fans present to revel in the moment with them.

No spectators were allowed inside Nationals Park, with very few exceptions — like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House coronavirus task force member, who bounced his honorary first pitch far left of the plate. In a sign of things to come in the sports world, the ambient soundtrack for the evening was full of manufactured crowd noise straight out of the uncanny valley.

Max Scherzer agreed it wasn’t an ideal way to celebrate, but added he knew there was nothing he could do about it.

“I’d rather be playing baseball than not,” Scherzer said. “So for me, the way I look at it, look, we won the World Series. I’m sure we’ll have a day at some point where we’ll be able to celebrate that with our fans, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Outside the center field gate before the game, a lone man protested the league’s policy by holding a sign and chanting “Sell us tickets!” Others wearing Nationals hats and jerseys gathered at eateries just across the street from the park for outdoor dining and a view of the game on TV, before the rain arrived, at least.

Giancarlo Stanton bashed a two-run home run in the first inning that traveled 459 feet and landed outside the locked-up Budweiser Brew House. Adam Eaton’s solo homer for Washington later that inning dropped onto a sponsor-emblazoned tarp covering part of the stands.

Scherzer struck out 11 batters, but Stanton got the best of him with three RBI on two hits. Aaron Judge added an RBI double for New York.

In his Yankees debut, starting pitcher Gerrit Cole settled in after allowing Eaton’s early home run and did not allow another hit the rest of the night. Cole walked just two and struck out five.

Storms arrived around the fifth inning and eventually forced everyone to take cover inside in the top of the sixth. After more than 90 minutes, the field crew removed the tarp from the field, but soon had to bring it back out.

Inside the clubhouse, manager Dave Martinez said players were spaced far enough apart and were required to wear masks while waiting out the delay.

The final box score showed that more time was spent in the delay (1 hour, 58 minutes) than playing baseball (1 hour, 43 minutes). The teams will return to the diamond Saturday and Sunday.

Before the game, all players from both teams held a long strand of black fabric and observed a moment of silence in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement. They joined together in kneeling for a portion of the observance, but after that, everyone stood for the playing of the national anthem.

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