TORONTO — For the second time in five days, the homeless Toronto Blue Jays watched as a stadium plan fell apart in front of their eyes Wednesday when Pennsylvania state health authorities put the kibosh on a deal between the club and the Pittsburgh Pirates to play out of PNC Park.
Tick, tock … the clock on the Blue Jays’ home opener, scheduled for July 29, is down to just seven days.
Of the known options we reported Monday, there are three left: Camden Yards in Baltimore, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, or a trek back down to the COVID-19 hotbed of Florida to play out of their spring training complex in Dunedin.
A fourth option of the Jays barnstorming and playing as the home team in that particular opponent’s stadium was floated Wednesday, but the organization — and the players would have all the say in this, as they did over the weekend when the Jays’ front office went seeking an MLB ballpark — would have to weigh having their own setup in Buffalo versus a 66-day road trip and no home base for the 30 games it will bat last in front of zero fans.
The Pittsburgh plan fell apart for the exact same reasons the Toronto plan did Saturday when the Canadian federal government decided there was too much risk to public health to allow the Jays to fly south to places like Tampa and Miami, as well as those teams flying north, Rogers Centre/hotel quarantine bubble aside.
That’s on Major League Baseball’s plan, one that includes lots of testing, but no bubble, lots of travel, and many, many ways you can envision things going sideways as the U.S. attempts to rein in a pandemic that even has the U.S. President warning it will get worse, a stark departure from his usual messaging.
The deal with the Pirates, an organization ready, willing and on record wanting to help the Jays, was signed off on by both clubs, and players inside the hotel in Boston on Wednesday thought they were going to be calling PNC Park home.
They also thought next week’s home-and-home series at Nationals Park in Washington was now going to be a home-and-“home” with the Jays batting last in the final two games of the four pack.
That’s how far down the road this had gone, again, and the Jays were confident it would get final approval, again.
Then the Pennsylvania Department of Health weighed in late in the afternoon.
“In recent weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a statement. “To add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams. We know that this virus does not discriminate, and can even make professional athletes very sick. We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Pennsylvanians.”
End of story.
Now it’s on to the next option, likely a push to convince Maryland that the extra travellers will pose no risk to public health and a simultaneous negotiation with the Baltimore Orioles to convince them that sharing a facility in a time of social distancing is a smart plan.
For that plan to work, scheduling conflicts for two series, July 29-Aug. 2 and Aug. 14-16, would have to be resolved, but that’s a relatively minor problem that could be solved with some flexibility, likely the Jays playing games as the home team in Washington, Philadelphia and Tampa.
“As opposed to a minor-league stadium, just staying on the road and being the home team at an away ballpark is something we have to consider,” Jays GM Ross Atkins said Monday. “And to hear our players talk about it, they say, ‘Hey, that wouldn’t be so bad.’”
If not, it could be back to Buffalo, which would not make Jays players happy.
That would also be after not exactly shining positive light on Sahlen Field, with Jays players and management essentially scoffing at a venue generally considered one of the better Triple-A facilities out there.
There are two main issues with their Triple-A affiliate’s ballpark.
The first is the lighting has to be upgraded to comply with MLB requirements.
The second is the amenities are both far from big-league ready and the confines are tight, something players like Randal Grichuk have openly panned this week.
The Jays had an operations team in Buffalo this week, and president Mark Shapiro said Saturday that he’s confident it could be a viable alternative if needed.
“There’s a lot that we have to do and some of it might get done after we start playing, but I’m confident that Buffalo is a viable alternative and that with the amount of resources that we would marshal if we focused solely on Buffalo that we could make it what it needs to be for us in time to play games,” Shapiro said.
Meanwhile, manager Charlie Montoyo has a 30-man roster to set ahead of Thursday’s deadline and a trip to Tampa to prepare for ahead of Friday’s opening day clash with Charlie Morton and the Rays.
Montoyo is trying to keep his group focused on the task at home, not their unenviable situation.
“You have no control over what’s going on, just play the game, play to win and keep going,” manager Charlie Montoyo said of his message to the players Wednesday. “We’ll see where we’re going to play. Don’t worry about the stuff you can’t control.”
Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pains – CBC.ca
Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien is in hospital after suffering chest pains following Wednesday night’s playoff series opener against the Philadelphia Flyers in Toronto.
General manager Marc Bergevin says associate coach Kirk Muller will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the best-of-seven series while Julien is sidelined.
Julien, 60, went to hospital after Philadelphia’s 2-1 win in Game 1 on Wednesday.
The Canadiens, the lowest-seeded team in the NHL’s post-season, upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the qualifying round.
A native of Blind River, Ont., Julien has been an NHL head coach since 2002 when he began his first run as coach of the Canadiens.
Julien guided the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. He returned to coach Montreal midway through the 2016-17 season.
Report: Westbrook out to begin playoffs – TSN
When the Houston Rockets begin their playoff quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they won’t have Russell Westbrook.
The former MVP is expected to miss at least the start of the playoffs because of a strained right quad, Jonathan Feign of the Houston Chronice is reporting.
Feign adds that there is no firm timetable but Houston believes he will be out for at least the first few playoff games and possibly longer.
He will not play Friday in the Rockets’ regular season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers.
In 57 games so far this season, his first in Houston, Westbrook is averaging 27.2 points per game on 47.2 per cent shooting to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
The Rockets head into play Thursday at 44-27, good for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Stecher honors late dad after goal for Canucks in Game 1 win vs. Blues – NHL.com
Troy Stecher saw the puck go in the net and instantly pointed with his right hand, the index finger, up in the air.
The Vancouver Canucks defenseman followed with a fist pump, screaming “Let’s gooooo.” He ended the celebration with a subtle, more personal point up to the roof on his way to the bench.
It was Stecher’s way of celebrating his go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal by honoring his late father, Peter, who died on June 21, Fathers’ Day. He was 65.
[RELATED: Full Blues vs. Canucks series coverage]
“It’s been tough obviously at certain moments throughout this process but I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates,” Stecher said following the Canucks’ 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round on Wednesday. “Obviously, I had a couple seconds there to reflect on my dad and the biggest thing is everybody showed support on the bench instantly and kind of gave me a tap and it just kind of motivated me to keep it going.”
Stecher’s goal at 5:37 of the third period gave the Canucks a 3-2 lead at Rogers Place.
It’s likely the most poignant and emotional goal scored by the 26-year-old from Richmond, British Columbia, who went to Canucks games with his dad while growing up.
“Any time someone goes through something like that, you feel for them, it’s sad,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “He’s probably had some hard days and to see that happen to him was special for sure, and I know his teammates were happy for him.”
After Stetcher scored, the Canucks responded by scoring two more goals, from center Bo Horvat at 8:01 and from forward J.T. Miller at 19:21, to seal their Game 1 win in the best-of-7 series.
Game 2 is in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city, on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET; NHL Network, SN, FS-MW).
“Winning definitely helps,” Stecher said.
Playing the game helps. Scoring arguably the biggest goal of his career helps. Teammates certainly help.
It’s all part of the life in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble that Stecher needed in the months following his father’s death.
Forward Elias Pettersson embraced Stecher during a break in action shortly after he scored the goal.
“What Troy had to go through during the summer was just devasting, so I just wanted to go and hug him,” said Pettersson, a center.
Jacob Markstrom hugged him after the game.
“Very emotional for him,” said the Canucks goalie, whose father died from cancer in November. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, just so happy he got it. I got emotional as well thinking about it so I gave him a big hug after the game. I’m super happy for him.
“To get rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he’s been going through, that’s huge.”
Stecher can become a restricted free agent after this season and his future is unclear.
But all that matters to Stecher now is what he can do to help the Canucks against the Blues. He started by creating a memory that months ago he would have been able to share with his dad.
Instead, it’s one he used to honor him.
But Stecher didn’t want to dwell on it for too long.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to keep going here,” Stecher said. “We have to put our foot forward and get ready for the next game now.”
NHL.com staff writer David Satriano contributed to this story.
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