Miami Marlins

Marlins and Phillies couldn’t play on Opening Day, so they took their matchup virtual

There were glitches, a couple technical issues and a home run wiped off the board.

But after about 20 minutes of troubleshoots and a pair of resets, Opening Day took place as best as it possibly could for the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday afternoon.

It wasn’t a live game at Marlins Park like originally planned, but it was the next best thing.

The Marlins and Phillies took their season opener virtual, simulating the game on “MLB The Show 20.” Shortstop Miguel Rojas represented the Marlins with the controller. First baseman Rhys Hoskins represented the Phillies.

The Phillies won the game 2-0, with a Bryce Harper home run off Brandon Kintzler in the eighth inning and Harper RBI double off Drew Steckenrider in the ninth providing the game’s only runs.

“This was a lot of fun,” Hoskins said. “It was good to get some baseball in on Opening Day. We were supposed to be playing...”

The Marlins and Phillies were scheduled to open the 2020 MLB season at Marlins Park on Thursday. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic squashed that two weeks ago with MLB stopping spring training 10 days early and postponing its season before it even started.

But the Marlins and Phillies were determined to play ball on Opening Day.

“Wish we were at @MarlinsPark today but going to make the best of it,” Rojas tweeted Thursday morning. “Let’s do this, @rhyshoskins!”

For an hour and a half, the virtual, pseudo-Opening Day provided a respite for Marlins and Phillies fans who are hoping for baseball to come back in its true form once this global crisis begins to subside.

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“I know we’re home and we would like to be playing baseball right now,” Rojas said, “but at the same time, we have to be smart and we have to be responsible. So stay at home. We’ll be back.”

How the game unfolded

Rojas rolled out a starting lineup that had been similar to what manager Don Mattingly had used during spring training with one exception.

Jon Berti started at second base and batted seventh in place of Isan Diaz, who was not on the virtual roster.

Otherwise, it was what you would expect.

Center fielder Jonathan Villar, third baseman Brian Anderson, left fielder Corey Dickerson and first baseman Jesus Aguilar comprised the top four spots. Matt Joyce batted fifth and got the start in right field, a matchup-based decision with righty Aaron Nola on the mound for Philadelphia. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, Berti and Rojas rounded out the lineup. Sandy Alcantara got the nod at starting pitcher.

Garrett Cooper was Rojas’ right-handed bat of choice off the bench for pinch-hitting situations.

The first two attempts to play the game didn’t make it past the first inning due to technical glitches. It wiped out a Jonathan Villar home run from the second game.

But once the game took place the third time around, it became a pitching duel.

Sandy Alcantara threw four scoreless innings, getting double plays in the first and second while getting out of bases-loaded jams in the third and fourth. Nola went six scoreless for the Phillies.

The game was scoreless for seven innings until Harper’s leadoff homer to right field gave Philly the lead for good.

“That’s how it is,” Rojas said shortly after Jay Bruce caught a shallow fly ball from Villar for the final out. “Sometimes you can put it together and sometimes you rely on pitching. ... Hopefully all the fans out there enjoyed that. Thank you for being with us.”

Rojas represents

For the Marlins, Rojas was the fitting choice to be the team’s representative. He might not be their best player on “MLB The Show” — Rojas was quick to give pitcher Sterling Sharp that honor — but the shortstop is viewed as a leader in the clubhouse, a veteran who worked his way up from defensive replacement to everyday starter. He’s an unofficial face of the franchise and the epitome of what the Marlins want to see out of all their players.

He also had managerial experience heading into Thursday after serving as Miami’s player manager to close out the 2019 season.

The outcome of that game? A 4-3 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The Marlins signed him a two-year contract extension at the end of last season that keeps him with the Marlins through at least the 2021 season.

As the Marlins went through the trials and tribulations of a 105-loss year in 2019 — an expected consequence of their latest rebuild — he kept teammates upbeat, reminding them of the bigger picture.

He never wavered in his desire to see the rebuild through.

“I just want to be a good teammate,” Rojas said during spring training. “I don’t necessarily want to be the captain or whatever it is. I just want to be a good leader and a good teammate at the end of the day.”

‘Baseball will be back’

When the Marlins and the rest of MLB will be able to play live games is still undetermined.

Right now, based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the earliest possible resumption of normalcy in the baseball world — and any other gathering of more than 10 people in the United States — is mid-May. Factor in the likely need for a mini training camp of sorts to get players ready, and real games probably aren’t starting until June if all goes according to plan.

“One thing I know for sure is that baseball will be back,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a Wednesday interview on ESPN’s SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.”

A full 162-game schedule is “probably not” happening, Manfred said. The league will also have to be creative with regular-season and postseason schedules. Seven-inning doubleheaders are a possibility that will garner discussion.

Manfred wants to see “a credible number of games” played should the regular season happen. How many games would be enough? Manfred wouldn’t say.

“The exact number that we’ll see as reasonable is going to depend on when we get the go-ahead to play,” Manfred said. “I don’t have some absolute number in my mind that’s a make or break. I think we have to evaluate the situation. I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like. Obviously, our fans love a 162-game season and the postseason format that we have. We’re probably not going to be able to do that this year. I think that’s clear. It gives us an opportunity to do some things, to experiment and to make sure we provide as many games as possible and as entertaining of a product as possible.”

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