By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The Houston Astros being exposed as cheats, a Miami Marlins COVID-19 outbreak that raised speculation about the season being cancelled and a stacked Los Angeles Dodgers team snapping a 32-year title drought dominated MLB headlines in 2020.
Houston took on the villain role in January when an MLB investigation found the Astros stole pitch signs from opposing team’s catchers during their World Series-winning 2017 campaign, news which rocked the baseball offseason.
“Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” Astros owner Jim Crane said at the team’s opening news conference of Spring Training in February. “We had a good team. We won the World Series. And we’ll leave it at that.”
The Astros were booed heavily in Spring Training but got a reprieve when MLB suspended all exhibition play in March and delayed the start of the regular season in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The season began four months later than usual in July as a 60-game sprint rather than the usual 162 games but since fans were not allowed at any regular season games the Astros did not have to compete in front of their detractors.
Because of COVID-19, the Toronto Blue Jays, MLB’s only Canadian-based team, played their home games in Buffalo after failing to secure an exemption from a rule requiring anybody entering the country to self-isolate for two weeks.
MLB’s season was imperiled less than a week after it began given a COVID-19 outbreak at the Marlins which convinced the league to put Miami’s campaign on hold for a week while other teams moved ahead with trepidation.
Cases then started to impact other teams, forcing MLB to scramble and revise its schedule to make up for the postponed games through double-headers and eliminating off days.
MLB managed to complete its regular season before holding the last three rounds of its postseason in controlled, neutral-site “bubbles” in California and Texas, including a neutral-site World Series in Arlington with limited fans.
The Dodgers, MLB’s best team all season, reached their third World Series in four years and ended decades of heartbreak with a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the best-of-seven championship.
“This team was incredible all throughout the year, all throughout the postseason, all throughout the quarantine,” said World Series MVP Corey Seager.
“We never stopped. We were ready to go as soon as the bell was called. And once it did, we kept rolling.”
The win, however, was not without drama as Dodgers’ starting third baseman Justin Turner was pulled from the clinching game prior to the eighth inning after receiving the results of a positive COVID-19 test mid-game.
Turner returned to the field to celebrate the team’s World Series but was not punished by MLB, which said he expressed remorse for his actions.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)