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Column: Chicago Cubs lose 5-1 to Philadelphia Phillies after MLB opts to play despite ‘very unhealthy’ air alert

The Chicago Cubs have played in worse-looking conditions at Wrigley Field than Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Few can forget the Cubs game against the Atlanta Braves in April 2018 when the wild chill was 25 degrees and players were drenched from the howling rain and a hawk wind in their face the entire afternoon. The Braves blew an eight-run, eighth-inning lead, and cried about the conditions afterward.

“If we all don’t come out of here with pneumonia I think we’ll be alright,” Braves reliever Luke Jackson said.

But sometimes looks are deceiving. The air quality in Chicago on Tuesday was at a level deemed “very unhealthy” by the Illinois EPA due to smoke from the wildfires in Canada. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office and the MLB Players Association convened during the day to determine whether to postpone the game, but the league opted to play on.

The collective bargaining agreement dictated the decision on such a cancellation would be in the hands of MLB with input from the union, not the teams involved.

Ian Happ, the Cubs player representative, said Tuesday’s decision to play was made by MLB after consulting with the union.

“The league felt the levels were playable,” he said. Happ said the smoke affected the flight of the ball, but it wasn’t too bad.

The air quality index was around 250. Happ said there was “no line,” or number, that would make conditions unplayable, and he didn’t know how MLB came to its decision. “Good question,” he said, adding, “I don’t know how often wildfires are going to affect baseball games, but until somebody goes out and sets a standard of what that is, it’s just an arbitrary line and we’re all trying to figure it out together.”

Otherwise, it was business as usual around Wrigley Field.

Earlier in the day, dozens of children gathered in Gallagher Way outside the park to watch the computer-animated movie “Wall-E,” a film that includes a message about the hazards of environmental neglect. The smoky haze from the fire was widespread but did not obscure the video board secured on the Cubs’ office building, and none of the parents seemed too concerned about the air pollution.

There have been fouler smells emanating from Wrigley in years past, but usually it was due to the play of the Cubs. The smell during Tuesday’s game was more like a campout at Wrigley, and a smoky crowd of 37,072 turned out to watch a jet-lagged Cubs lineup look lifeless against Phillies left-hander Ranger Suárez, who held them to one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings.

Cubs starter Jameson Taillon allowed five runs in five innings in another uninspiring outing, falling to 2-6 with a 6.90 ERA.

A couple of hours before game time, Cubs manager David Ross said he didn’t have enough knowledge of the situation to say whether he was concerned about playing in the unhealthy air conditions.

“I was out walking around earlier in the day,” he said. “It was not ideal. There’s probably smarter people making decisions on that than me.”

Some players did what they had to do. Trey Mancini was out on the field early to take grounders and extra infield practice after making some egregious fielding errors on the road trip in Pittsburgh and London. Most Cubs took batting practice.

Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner noted it “definitely smells pretty smoky outside, (so) we’ll do pretty limited stuff outside pregame, and then see what we’ve got.”

Asked if the players had any concerns about playing under such conditions, Hoerner said: “I think we’re all kind of just learning what that really means, the air quality numbers and things like that I’m not really familiar with. Hopefully we’ll be all right.”

Hoerner then let out an awkward laugh.

Of course, most of the players are in good shape and relatively healthy. More at risk were older fans and those with heart or lung disease.

MLB canceled games in New York and Philadelphia on June 7 due to the hazardous air pollution from the Canadian wildfires. White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said that night at Yankee Stadium: “A couple of guys, myself, my throat started hurting a little bit. Maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s not. Still, they did the right thing.”

The Cubs organization conceded to the poor air quality by allowing the Chicago media to vote on whether to keep the press box windows closed for the game. Typically the Cubs keep it open if it’s over 50degrees, whether the writers agree or not. The writers on Tuesday voted unanimously to keep the windows closed.

The surreal atmosphere took a little of the focus away from the Cubs’ recent hot streak. They returned home from a 4-1 road trip and stood three games behind the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, in spite of being two games under .500. The Cubs play four games in Milwaukee next week.

“If you’re in contention, the record doesn’t matter, right?” Ross said. “You’re either in it (or not). We’re three games back and I don’t care if we’re 20 games over .500 or you’re 20 games below .500. If you’re three games back from the people leading your division, you’re three games back. That’s the way I look at it.”

Fortunately for Ross, the Cubs weren’t 20 games below .500 or else he’d be hearing it from fans, no matter where they stood in the race. The Cubs have been playing well the last three weeks, riding their starting pitching and improved hitting in clutch situations.

“We went through a stretch there where hitters were doing really well and then a stretch where the pitchers were doing really well, and we couldn’t put it all together,” left fielder Ian Happ said. “But we put it together.

“The lineup shakeup with (Mike Tauchman) at the top has been really good, and Dansby (Swanson) hitting four or five, and getting (Cody Bellinger) back, all those things put together (have helped).”

The Cubs made a couple of roster moves beforehand, selecting the contract of first baseman Jared Young from Triple-A Iowa and optioning Miles Mastrobuoni to Iowa. Young was designated for assignment after last season, but re-signed and finally made his way back to the Cubs.

Drew Smyly and Kyle Hendricks will start the final two games of the series, and Ross expected Marcus Stroman’s blister to heal in time to make his next start Saturday against the Cleveland Guardians.

Stroman told reporters in London he could use some rest during the All-Star break, which might mean the Cubs’ top starter would be unavailable to pitch in Seattle. That would be OK with Ross.

“He knows his body really well,” Ross said. “He’s really in tune with his body. If he feels like he needs a break I’m sure he’ll take that break. That’s between him and Major League Baseball. Hopefully he gets selected for the All-Star Game.

“I think he deserves that as I’m sure (the media does). After that, that’s a personal preference.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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