The Yankees’ cavernous deficit in the American League East standings might not have looked normal on Thursday afternoon, but the setting and circumstances sure did.
A steamy, sunny, mid-July day. Hockey over, basketball nearly so, football still on the horizon.
And, of course, the Red Sox and Yankees at Yankee Stadium, on national television as the only contest on Major League Baseball’s let’s-clear-the-decks-for-this-thing schedule. Plus: Alex Rodriguez in the ESPN booth!
In short, it felt a lot like baseball season – like a normal, post-All-Star, cusp-of-the-dog-days baseball season, one begging for a late move by the Yankees to at least make things interesting down the stretch.
A terse release from MLB at 4:42 p.m. delivered the news that there would be no game, to allow for "continued testing and contact tracing" in the wake of an incipient COVID-19 outbreak on the Yankees roster.
Three players – Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta – tested positive for the virus despite having been vaccinated and three more – whom GM Brian Cashman would not name – are suspected positives.
Where does this go from here for the Red Sox-Yankees series and beyond? Cashman and manager Aaron Boone had no information on that when they spoke to reporters after the postponement.
(The Red Sox seemed unperturbed. They went ahead with fielding and batting practice as scheduled.)
But even in the best case, in which this is a short-term glitch, the postponement was a gut punch for MLB, the Yankees, sports fans and the broader population.
The fact it happened on a night specifically designed to showcase the rivalry, and the return of baseball after the break, made it even worse than if, say, the Friday night Orioles-Royals game had been affected.
To summarize Thursday’s reality check: COVID-19 is not gone, and the sports and larger worlds are not back to normal.
We’re getting there – we hope – but we’re not there.
Cashman called it "a very fluid situation right now," but he strongly emphasized the value of vaccinations in that they have and presumably will continue to protect affected players from serious illness.
"The vaccines that we encouraged everybody to get guarantee not getting hospitalized and not getting death coming from COVID, which is important," he said. "But it doesn’t prevent you from contracting COVID."
Cashman said two of the three confirmed positives got the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and the other got one of the two-dose vaccines.
The Yankees have a significantly higher rate of vaccination than do the Red Sox.
"We’re thankful that we’re vaccinated in most cases – not all cases," Cashman said. "Therefore, we’re ultimately protected.
"That’s the biggest message I can provide from the vaccinations, that they do protect you from hospitalization and death . . . Thankfully, I can report that as of now everybody’s OK, and that would speak again to the belief those vaccinations are working."
Boone said he has been vaccinated but believes it is and should be a personal choice.
All of the above is an important discussion and a matter of ongoing public interest, no matter one’s views. But on this we presumably all can agree:
This stinks on every level, from those whose health and/or financial situation has been damaged by the virus to those of us with far, far lower stakes – like wanting to watch a Yankees-Red Sox game on a lazy Thursday night.
"I guess the last year, year-and-a-half has kind of in some ways prepared you for this kind of stuff," Boone said. "Certainly disappointing and frustrating and don’t want to be sitting here talking about this and desperately want us to go back to as normal as possible.
"But that’s out of our control, too, and we just have to do the best with the circumstances and with the hand we’re dealt and try to make sure we’re taking care of one another as best we can."
Just like the rest of us.