Major League Baseball avoided a full-blown World Series debacle by the same tiny margin Tampa Bay outfielder Manuel Margot was thrown out trying to steal home in Game 5.
A season delayed by a pandemic and played in empty stadiums, a season shortened to a 60-game schedule with odd rhythms and constant reminders that a deadly virus could derail the best-laid plans, ended Tuesday. But the ripple effects of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner's positive test for coronavirus, which was confirmed Tuesday and forced manager Dave Roberts to pull him from the game in the eighth inning, have only just begun to be measured.
MLB is fortunate that Rays manager Kevin Cash created a path for the Dodgers to prevail 3-1 and wrap it up in six games with his all-analytics, no-feel decision to remove pitcher Blake Snell after 5 1/3 dazzling innings. Had Tampa Bay won and forced a Game 7 on Wednesday, commissioner Rob Manfred would have faced the possibility of delaying his sport’s showcase event while following
health protocols and assessing whether Turner had infected others around him.
Imagine: One of the most dramatic moments in sports postponed, perhaps by a day but maybe longer. Players and coaches would have had to remain in a bubble that was already leaving many feeling constrained. After months of testing and creating modified bubbles that successfully kept players and staffers safe from COVID-19, a disruption of Game 7 would have been the equivalent of leading a marathon and falling in the final 100 feet. It would have caused chaos and massive public relations nightmares for MLB while it dealt with historically low World Series TV ratings.
The Dodgers returned to their Texas hotel late Tuesday for additional testing, which was likely to be followed by more testing Wednesday. Turner tweeted that he felt great, “no symptoms at all,” and lamented that he couldn’t be on the field with his teammates for the final out and immediate celebration. Now comes MLB’s anxious wait to see if anyone he hugged or high-fived or otherwise came near him also tests positive.
“It’s a bittersweet night for us. We’re glad to be done,” Manfred said during an on-field interview on Fox. “I do think it’s a great accomplishment for our players to get this season completed, but obviously we’re concerned when any of our players tests positive. We learned during the game that Justin was a positive. He was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”
Turner's isolation didn’t last long. Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said Turner was “quarantined in a doctor’s office off to the side,” but at some point Turner returned to the field to hold the championship trophy, hug his wife, and pose for pictures with teammates. For at least part of that time, he was irresponsible enough to not wear a mask, even though other players and their children and families were nearby.
A team picture captured Turner sitting with manager Dave Roberts on his right, the commissioner’s trophy to his immediate left, and Friedman on the other side of the trophy. None wore a mask. That contradicted Friedman’s insistence he had worn his mask while he was close to Turner.
“I haven’t seen the pictures. I totally understand the question. If there are people around him without masks, that’s not good optics at all,” Friedman conceded during a postgame video session.
“I haven’t seen them so it’s hard for me to speak to it specifically, but I think from our standpoint, I think the people who were around him are people that would be in the contact-tracing web anyway, with just how closely a lot of us have been around each other. And so now I think the subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important to figure out what we do and to make sure that any of us that are potentially positive do not spread it to other people.”
Friedman theorized Turner was inspired to return to the field because he wanted to share a happy moment with his teammates, possibly for the last time because Turner is about to become a free agent.
“I haven’t seen the footage per se, but I think from his standpoint, I think him having a chance to take a picture with the trophy was incredibly important and meaningful to him,” Friedman said, “and obviously from our standpoint that contact tracing and [figuring] out who’s been around him and the test results are all going to be incredibly important from this point moving forward. It’s hard for me to say specifically about the on-field [events] because I didn’t see everything that happened or didn’t, and so obviously we’ll figure out more as we go.”
Teammates missed Turner during those first exhilarating moments after Julio Urías’ game-ending strikeout of Willy Adames clinched the championship. “We didn’t get to fully celebrate like we wanted to. That kind of sucks,” Mookie Betts said.
Asked if he had seen Turner on the field after the positive test results had become widely known, Betts seemed surprised anyone would think Turner shouldn’t have been there. “Uh, I mean, he’s part of the team. Forget all that. We’re not excluding him from anything,” Betts said.
Clayton Kershaw, finally and deservedly a World Series champion after so many frustrating finishes, called Turner “the rock in the postseason for us every single year.” Kershaw added, “Just like tonight might not be the night that we expected as a team or that he expected individually, they'll never be able to take away the World Series championship from any of us.”
The Dodgers are lucky they wrapped it up before a season bent by the pandemic could be ruined by an abrupt ending without a champion being declared. It’s all over now but the wait for those test results to come in. That will be an uneasy pause with uncertain ripple effects.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.