Big midweek matchup here in The Bronx, Joe Girardi managing his first Phillies game here in front of crowds, both his club and Aaron Boone’s Yankees up against the ropes as the trade deadline approaches. To tweak one of Girardi’s trademark phrases, it is what you want.
And to close out this quick, interleague series Wednesday night, fans will pay their hard-earned money to see the pitching matchup of …
… Asher Wojciechowski and a Phillies relief pitcher to be named later.
No disrespect intended to these two gentlemen, who have attained their own hard-earned level of success. It’s just that their presence in such a big spot, at such a critical time on the schedule, reflects the reality of this 2021 season. If it’s better than its immediate process thanks to the full slate and full capacities at the ballparks, it still gets defined by COVID chaos.
“It’s inevitable in this game, it’s certainly been inevitable in these last two years with what we’ve been dealing with as a country, as a nation, and as a world with the pandemic and things,” Boone said Tuesday, before the two middling clubs opened their series at Yankee Stadium. “So you’ve got to be able to handle it. You’ve got to be able to make adjustments and have a number of different people, [and it’s] imperative that they step up. And it’s a great opportunity for people to do that.”
“It’s really strange,” Girardi said. “[Just when] you think … you can let your guard down, it pops up.”
It popped up for the Phils just before the All-Star break, at Fenway Park, as third baseman Alec Bohm left the July 10 Phillies-Red Sox game when Major League Baseball learned of a positive COVID test and, as a result of that, three other players — including Tuesday night’s starting pitcher Aaron Nola — were removed from the roster due to contact tracing. And then again Tuesday, as pitchers Bailey Falter and J.D. Hammer went on the COVID injured list.
The Phillies are one of the seven MLB teams that has not reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold which liberates clubs from myriad COVID restrictions. The Yankees are one of the 23 teams that did hit that percentage, yet that didn’t stop them from suffering their second outbreak of the season, with Aaron Judge headlining a group of six players deactivated due to positive tests. Not all of those six are vaccinated.
In a sign of the times, the Yankees announced about 45 minutes before first pitch that they had scratched DJ LeMahieu, supposed to start at first base, with a stomach virus. In anticipation of the follow-up question, the club added that LeMahieu already had taken a rapid COVID test, which came back negative. That meant that the Yankees began the game without three of their four most valuable position players — with Gio Urshela joining Judge as part of the six quarantined guys (one of those six, Jonathan Loaisiga, has returned to the team, though not to the active roster).
After the Phillies closed the first half with their second straight win over the Bosox on July 11, “I probably went, ‘Phew!’ ” , Girardi said, “… because I knew I didn’t have to worry about COVID for three or four days, right? It was nice. But just when you think you get your team on a roll, it seems like something pops up and you’ve got to deal with it.”
The disease, of course, remains a worry of varying degrees for most inhabitants of this planet, and the reality is that sports can serve as only so much of a distraction when COVID won’t leave this arena, either.
So maybe you buck up and see if Wojciechowski, the owner of a 5.95 ERA in 57 career big league games, can figure out a way to solve the Phillies for a trip or two through their order, and whether Girardi can navigate his relief corps through the emaciated Yankees lineup.
It’s not the Yankees-Phillies showdown you envisioned in your perfect world. Hence you hope everyone on the COVID injured list will be OK, and then you take in a ballgame 2021-style, not quite sure whom you’ll see and curious who can capitalize on his unexpected opportunity.