CHICAGO — It’s the stuff they might write a movie about someday as the St. Louis Cardinals returned to a Major League Baseball field in dramatic fashion Saturday, sweeping the Chicago White Sox in a doubleheader, after the team had missed the past 19 days of competition because of a coronavirus outbreak among its players and staff.
“Isn’t it crazy what we just did?” outfielder Tyler O’Neill said after hitting a home run in the sweep. “I think the craziest thing is not getting a text message this morning saying we’re postponed. Actually waking up for a ballgame, and luckily we got two.”
The 5-1 and 6-3 victories over the White Sox came after a flurry of roster moves since 10 Cardinals players and eight staff members tested positive since their last game on July 29 in Minnesota. The outbreak took everyone by surprise, but the team doesn’t believe it was “egregious” in its behavior to further the spread. A mask down here, a meal shared too close there.
It led manager Mike Shildt to even contemplate the possibility that there might be a complete shutdown of the team for the season. He quickly dismissed that notion and the Cardinals were finally cleared to play, showing up in a big way Saturday, responding every time the White Sox put some pressure on them.
“The other team was probably smelling blood, so I needed to make good pitches,” veteran Adam Wainwright said after his Game 1 win.
Because of the positive COVID-19 tests, Wainwright was without his longtime catcher, Yadier Molina. He was missing veteran Paul DeJong. His shortstop for Saturday’s start, Tommy Edman, was playing the position for the first time in the majors. Oh, and Wainwright had to drive himself 4½ hours from St. Louis to get to the game. None of that screams “big leagues.”
“I was thinking mom was going to pop around the corner with some orange slices and a Capri Sun,” Wainwright joked, referring to classic postgame fare on Little League diamonds and soccer fields from coast to coast.
Wainwright begged Shildt for the start in the team’s return. He wanted to lead the way, as did the leftover veterans who teamed up with rookies making their debuts on the mound and in the field. But the Cardinals showed no signs of dysfunction. In fact, they came together as they waited for their return to the game.
“A special group that responded to special circumstances,” Shildt said.
Their camaraderie won’t be the same this season. Wainwright said no human — other than perhaps a trainer — had physical contact with another person throughout the day. There were plenty of air high-fives, though. Mostly, there was joy. Joy to be playing again — and winning — even with extra social distancing.
“The biggest change was not having as many people in the dugout,” Wainwright said. “I was very impressed with everything that happened today. Our guys came out and played a clean baseball game.”
In fact, they played two clean games. Something the right-hander was grateful for as well.
“If you went around and polled the audience, everyone is very thankful for these seven-inning contests with how many games we’re facing and have to play in a short amount of time,” Wainwright said.
The reality of what the Cardinals are facing as they get back in gear — including two more doubleheaders in the next four days — isn’t lost on them. But for 14 innings on a beautiful afternoon in Chicago, the Cardinals could forget about what’s ahead and perhaps even what’s been behind them. At some point, they’ll get most or all of their COVID-19 positive players back. And then, who knows? At 4-3 on the season, everything is in front of them and anything is possible.
“These two [wins] meant a lot for the group,” Shildt said. “They showed their competitive spirit today. … We all know that we’re in a historic situation here.”