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Orioles to host Yankees this week instead of Marlins due to Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak

Professional sports’ worst COVID-19 outbreak has forced schedule changes at breakneck speed: Major League Baseball sidelined the Miami Marlins for a week, rejiggered plans and sent the New York Yankees, not the Marlins, to the Orioles’ home opener Wednesday on a day’s notice.

After half of the Marlins tested positive in the past week, baseball is defending its testing and player safety protocols. The situation has cast doubt on whether the league can complete a 60-game season with nationwide travel in a global pandemic.

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“The health and safety protocols were designed with a challenging circumstance like the one facing the Marlins in mind,” MLB said in a statement. It noted that the Marlins were allowed to play Sunday with four total positive test results — in keeping with the league’s recommendations, including contact tracing and quarantining.

MLB also said that no club besides the Marlins had registered a positive test for on-field personnel since Opening Day.

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“The difficult circumstances of one club reinforce the vital need to be diligent with the protocols in all ways, both on and off the field,” MLB said. “We will continue to bolster our protocols and make any necessary adjustments. ... We are confident that clubs and players will act appropriately, for themselves and for others, and the data provides reason to believe that the protocols can work effectively.”

The league’s decisions have been met with trepidation from players and observers.

“There’s real fear, there’s real anxiety for me, for all my teammates,” Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun said Tuesday. “I think we’ve found it very difficult to focus on baseball at all the last couple of days.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the season could be in jeopardy.

“This could put it in danger,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I don’t believe they need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, speaking to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, expressed reservations about sports such as baseball and football being played during the pandemic, especially in the wake of the Marlins’ wave of infections.

“It seems to me that when you have to travel, when you have to be in a hotel room and places that are different than you’ve been the day before, when you are in a position where you’re walking, going into an area where there is a high concentration of spread of COVID, all those things add up to a real problem,” Biden said, “and we’re not going to really overcome that until we follow science and get a vaccine.”

The Orioles and Yankees ended up playing this week after two days of uncertainty surrounding the health status of their original opponents. The Yankees were in Philadelphia waiting to play the Phillies, who hosted the Marlins for three games this past weekend at Citizens Bank Park as cases grew in Miami’s clubhouse.

The Yankees’ two games in Philadelphia were postponed out of caution because they would have used the visiting clubhouse. No Phillies players tested positive for COVID-19 in their recent round of testing, according to multiple published reports.

The Orioles, meanwhile, flew Sunday to Miami after beating the Boston Red Sox for two games against a Marlins team who would never make it to Florida.

The Marlins remained in Philadelphia after Sunday’s game. Once it became clear they wouldn’t be able to play their scheduled games Monday or Tuesday at Marlins Park, the Orioles returned Monday night to Baltimore.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in an MLB Network interview Monday night that the Orioles-Marlins game scheduled for Wednesday at Camden Yards could go ahead if test results from the Marlins were “acceptable.”

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The decision Tuesday afternoon, which came after ESPN and several outlets reported four more positive tests for Marlins players in the morning, was an attempt to quell two days of uncertainty.

The new Marlins plan also postpones the club’s weekend schedule vs. the Washington Nationals.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said his thoughts immediately went Monday morning to some longtime friends he has on the Marlins’ coaching staff, and to former Oriole Jonathan Villar, who was traded there this offseason.

“It’s been an unusual day or two, for sure,” Hyde said. “But we’re happy to be home. We’re looking forward to our home opening day tomorrow.

“[Monday] was just kind of a crazy day we’re on the phone a lot and finding things out by the hour or the minute like you guys were, so it was just a ‘hang tight’ and ‘we’ll see what happens.”

First baseman Chris Davis, the team’s representative to the union, said that the Orioles quickly got on board with the idea of playing the Yankees but had apprehensions if the league tried to go forward with playing Miami.

“Obviously, there were a lot of unknowns with the number of guys that they had test positive,” Davis said. “Guys didn’t want to put themselves in harm’s way.”

Davis said the Marlins’ situation has only strengthened Orioles players’ resolve to continue to follow protocols, sometimes even more strictly. He said he’ll likely start wearing a mask at first base during games.

Before Tuesday’s decision, the Yankees had stayed in Philadelphia for the last two days waiting on word from the league. The Tampa Bay Rays are scheduled to come into Baltimore for three games beginning Friday, and then the original league schedule has the Orioles hosting the Yankees for three games beginning Monday.

The Marlins were supposed to be off Monday and host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday. It’s possible the schedule could be adjusted to allow the Yankees and Orioles to make up their missed interleague games early next week; MLB said in its statement that further schedule changes were possible.

In statements Monday and Tuesday, Marlins CEO Derek Jeter blamed the infections on the team leaving Miami and traveling, though their home city is a COVID-19 hotspot.

Still, traveling is part of the MLB protocol after the league wasn’t able to create a bubble to house all 30 teams and play out its shortened season, which only began Thursday. The NHL, NBA, WNBA, and MLS are all using bubbles, though none are far enough along in their sports’ return to compare to baseball’s efficacy at preventing the spread of the virus.

Baseball’s nationwide approach meant games continued for 26 unaffected teams Monday and Tuesday, though some saw the Marlins’ situation as a wake-up call. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said on MLB Network Radio that his team saw the logic in not playing Monday or Tuesday after their series with the Marlins.

“There are guys that have little children at home or wives that are pregnant or a parent that is high risk. There’s too much at risk here not to say: ‘Hey, we’ve got to back off for two days and let’s make sure,’” he said. “I think it’s smart what baseball is doing here and then we’ll go from there. We had some players that probably had some trepidation [playing against the Marlins] on Sunday because there’s close contact.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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