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New York Yankees 3B coach Phil Nevin, 1B coach Reggie Willits positive for COVID-19

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New York Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin and first-base coach Reggie Willits have tested positive for the coronavirus, the team said Tuesday.

Nevin’s status was announced before Tuesday night’s road game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Willits’ positive case and that of a staff member were confirmed after the Yankees’ 3-1 win. Manager Aaron Boone also said the team is waiting for more results.

Two additional cases are considered inconclusive but are expected to be ruled as positives, a source told ESPN, which would bring to five the number of coaches and support staff members who are positive. ESPN earlier reported that there were five positive cases among the coaching staff.

“We’re doing all we can to stay healthy. A little bit of a skeleton staff but nothing we can’t handle,” Boone said before Tuesday’s game.

A team spokesman said Nevin, Willits and the staff member are fully vaccinated.

Contact tracing is ongoing, but no players are involved, Boone said pregame. Bench coach Carlos Mendoza replaced Nevin as third-base coach, and minor league coordinator Mario Garza filled in as first-base coach for Willits. Boone said several other coaches, including pitching coach Matt Blake, were absent amid tracing.

“Hopefully the fact that we are vaccinated in a pretty large mass … will blunt this and allow a number of us to not get anything and keep the symptoms at a minimum if it does get through,” Boone said.

Boone said after Tuesday’s win that the Yankees are preparing as if they will play Wednesday night.

“Get ready and hope that we avoid any more hiccups or potential positives and things like that,” he said. “Major League Baseball and their doctors are advising us. They know what would require a non-play but they also were very confident today that we could play and should play.”

The Yankees on April 30 were able to relax MLB protocols after reaching an 85% vaccination rate among players and staff such as managers, coaches and athletic trainers. The team spoke with MLB officials about the situation.

“We’ll have to definitely evaluate and make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent things from happening,” Boone said.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole resumed wearing a mask during a pregame videoconference session Tuesday.

“As a whole, we’re going to press on,” Cole said. “I don’t think this is going to be over for a few years. I think we’re going to have to be dealing with this kind of thing for a while. And every time these things come up, we’re going to have to adapt and learn, just as a species.”

Cole said the players were comfortable in playing the game, and right fielder Aaron Judge said the players voted to take the field.

“We’ve all learned that playing through a pandemic last year, nothing surprises you, but it catches you off guard a little bit,” Boone said. “Playing the 2020 season, going through spring training, playing this year and not having an issue, it still hits you, it still stops you in your tracks. Without question we’re certainly more equipped to deal with it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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After ‘a good ride,’ Toronto Blue Jays close out stint in Buffalo with loss, eye return to Rogers Centre

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — For the city of Buffalo, it was fun while it lasted.

After not hosting a Major League Baseball game since its days as a Federal League outpost in 1915, Buffalo made the most of its opportunity, hosting the Toronto Blue Jays over two seasons because of coronavirus concerns.

It all ended Wednesday night, as J.D. Martinez and Hunter Renfroe connected back-to-back to help the Boston Red Sox won a home run derby, beating Toronto 7-4 in the final MLB game to be played in the city for the foreseeable future.

In the middle of the third inning, Toronto players and coaches came out of the dugout to salute the fans at Sahlen Field.

In the end, there was no mistaking the finality of the Blue Jays’ tenure along Lake Erie as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” played on the stadium’s sound system just after Boston finished its on-field celebration.

The Blue Jays will return to Toronto on July 30 after the Canadian government granted them an exemption to the U.S.-Canada travel ban. The Blue Jays haven’t played at Rogers Centre since 2019 because of coronavirus protocols. They began the season playing home games in their spring-training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida before shifting up to Buffalo when the more reliable summer weather rolled in.

“It’s been a good ride here,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We’re never going to forget that this was the place where we clinched the playoffs last year. The crowds have been great. It was a great idea by our crew (to thank the fans).”

Though there were many nights, especially against the Red Sox and New York Yankees this year, where the Blue Jays may have felt like the road team in Buffalo, considering the amount of fans both of those clubs brought to the stands.

Wednesday was no different. Red Sox Nation was loud and proud in the stands, as Kike Hernandez, Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis also connected for Boston. And this was after the Red Sox went deep six times in Monday’s 13-4 win over Toronto.

It was the first time the Red Sox hit at least five homers in consecutive games against one opponent since doing it to the Yankees in June 1977.

“We did an amazing job, coming here against a tough team,” said Boston manager Alex Cora, whose club scored just six runs in three games in New York against the Yankees before sweeping Toronto. “We ended up 3-2 on this road trip, so it was a positive one for how bad it supposedly looked over the weekend.”

Hernandez, who has nine homers in his last 25 games after being held without one in 23 previous games, can’t explain the turnaround.

“I don’t have a secret,” Hernandez said. “I’m just trying to get good at-bats, make good decisions at the pitches that I want to swing at. And it’s going well for me right now. I’m just going to try and do my job.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his 32nd homer for Toronto. George Springer added a two-run shot in the sixth and Teoscar Hernandez followed with a homer for Toronto, which finished its residency in Buffalo with a 12-11 record this season.

Including games played at the home of their Triple-A team in Florida, the Blue Jays ended with a 29-20 mark as a home team playing in the United States. Their game against Boston on Tuesday night was rained out.

Before the game, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro presented a check for $25,000 to the Buffalo Bisons Charitable Foundation in thanks for the support provided by Toronto’s top minor league affiliate.

Buffalo fans returned the favor, as crowds in excess of 10,000 turned out for six of Toronto’s last eight home games, with Wednesday’s attendance of 14,607 topping the ledger.

Hernandez hit a two-run shot in the third inning, and Devers and Chavis hit leadoff drives in the fourth and fifth innings. Martinez and Renfroe connected in the eighth as Boston raised its AL-leading road record to 30-19.

Garrett Richards (6-5) allowed four hits in 5 2/3 innings and won a second straight start for the first time since mid-May. He struck out four.

Garrett Whitlock pitched 1 1/3 innings and Adam Ottavino worked the eighth. Matt Barnes pitched a perfect ninth for his 20th save.

“We pitched well the whole road trip,” Cora said. “The bullpen was amazing. (Richards) was pounding the strike zone, changing speeds, using both sides of the plate. We loved what we saw.”

Robbie Ray (8-5) allowed the first three Boston homers and struck out four over five innings in the loss, his shortest outing since a 4 2/3-inning stint on June 18 at Baltimore.

Toronto’s Danny Jansen left the game after his seventh-inning double, pulling up after rounding first with hamstring tightness. On the hit, Boston’s Danny Santana stumbled in left field after trying to reach for the ball and left the game with right groin tightness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Chicago White Sox’s Yermin Mercedes, recently demoted to Triple-A, ‘stepping aside’ from baseball

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Chicago White Sox rookie Yermin Mercedes wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday night that he is “stepping aside” from baseball indefinitely while also apologizing to the team for not “accepting some of their decisions.”

The post was accompanied with a picture of the words “it’s over.”

“I want to apologize to all those who I inadvertently offended as a consequence of my immaturity like members of the radio, television, and press,” Mercedes wrote in his post. “To all the team’s members where I was involved with, I’m sorry for failing as a human being and for not accepting some of their decisions. I’m stepping aside from baseball indefinitely.”

It’s unclear what decisions Mercedes was referencing in his post.

Earlier Wednesday, on his Instagram story, Mercedes had posted “El Retiro” — or retirement — with a thinking emoji.

Mercedes, 28, earned AL Player of the Week to open the season and hit .415 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 22 games in April, but he struggled after that. His batting average dropped to .271 before he was demoted to Triple-A Charlotte at the beginning of July.

The White Sox were seemingly caught off guard about Mercedes’ intentions Wednesday night.

“The White Sox are aware of tonight’s Instagram post by Yermín Mercedes, who is currently on the active roster of our Class AAA team in Charlotte, NC,” the team said in a statement. “At this point in time, the White Sox have not received any official notification from Yermín concerning his future plans.”

Mercedes wore his emotions on his sleeve, playing with swagger as an older rookie, but he was the subject of controversy in May when White Sox manager Tony La Russa criticized him for swinging at a 3-0 pitch late in a blowout victory over the Minnesota Twins. Mercedes responded that he wasn’t going to change as he endeared himself to White Sox fans after making the team when left fielder Eloy Jimenez got injured in spring training. A local eatery even named a hamburger named after him: the “Yerminator.”

Mercedes ran into other issues besides swinging at a 3-0 pitch. He was benched in an early May game for arriving to the ballpark late, and he expressed disappointment after being sent down to the minors.



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Oakland Athletics continue stadium negotiations to stay in town, still considering Las Vegas option

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Oakland Athletics president Dave Kaval stood somewhere near the south side of the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday morning, with the Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood within eyesight. Kaval will be there alongside his architect over the next two days, he said, sitting in on a series of meetings and analyzing where a prospective new stadium could someday reside. Meanwhile, negotiations with the city of Oakland regarding a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark at the Howard Terminal site are in what Kaval described as “the bottom of the ninth inning.”

Oakland City Council officials voted Tuesday in favor of a non-binding term sheet for the ballpark and its surrounding development, a project that will cost up to $12 billion. But Kaval pushed back because the city voted in favor of a term sheet that differed from the one the A’s proposed three months earlier and included amendments that the team was seeing for the first time. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred followed with a statement expressing disappointment in the outcome and promising to “immediately begin conversations with the A’s to chart a path forward for the Club.”

What, exactly, does that mean?

“I think we need to unpack what was passed and what it means,” Kaval said in a phone interview with ESPN. “The fact that the city did not vote on our proposal — I mean it’s unusual to have that positioning. We do appreciate some of the concessions that were made. I think the party had been negotiating in good faith to try to get to a mutually agreeable solution. Obviously we didn’t get there before the vote. And so we have to balance that progress with some of the stark realities of, ‘How do we move this project into an implementation phase?’ We can’t let the process be the product.”

The A’s made a public proposal in April stating they would privately finance the ballpark, which will cost an estimated $1 billion, while also providing $450 million in community benefits and arranging for an additional $11 billion in private investment to eventually build up the surrounding neighborhood with 3,000 residential units, up to 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, 270,000 square feet for retail, an indoor 3,500-seat performance center, 400 hotel rooms and up to 18 acres available for public parks.

The city countered with a plan that includes three key differences: a new financial structure that depends on only one infrastructure financing district, preventing the A’s from creating an additional one at Jack London Square; an increase in affordable housing demands to 35% of residential units; and an additional community benefits fund that isn’t solely committed to capital investments.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other community leaders hosted a news conference near the Howard Terminal site on Wednesday morning in which they touted the city’s proposal and urged the A’s to continue negotiating. Schaaf said she’s noticing an “openness” from the A’s, adding that the city “provided the primary things that they asked for, that they have said they need to keep going on this process.”

“I respect that they’re trying to keep the heat on,” Schaaf said, “and what better place to go than Vegas for heat.”

Kaval, on the other hand, painted the Vegas trips as due diligence to cover for a project that might not materialize and provide a parallel path for a team playing in an outdated facility. Kaval said he wants more specifics about how the A’s would be reimbursed for a $352 million infrastructure payment and more specificity around when environmental clearances will be given and when a final binding vote can occur, ideally by the end of the current baseball season.

Oakland city officials see their counterproposal from Friday, and the amendments that were introduced on Tuesday, as the natural evolution of a negotiation.

A’s officials basically see it as a new agreement entirely.

“We need to know what was passed, how it relates to our original proposal,” Kaval said. “We need to understand the timeline to get the definitive vote. And we need to work really closely with the league, because they have a strong point of view on this. They wanna make sure the A’s have a home. We really are running out of time. We’re under a lot of pressure because our current facility is 10 years past its useful life. Let’s not forget that going sideways is really no longer an option.”

The A’s have spent the better part of the past two decades hoping to secure a new stadium in the Bay Area, a pursuit that took them through San Jose, Fremont and multiple sites in Oakland, most notably around Laney College. Renovations of the current Coliseum site, where the A’s have played since 1968, have been deemed nonviable largely because of the team’s stated desire for a downtown location.

Manfred said before last week’s All-Star Game that it would be a “mistake” to refer to the Las Vegas option as a bluff, calling it “a viable alternative for a major league club.” Other relocation options — including Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Montreal — could materialize if the team’s deal with the city falls through.

That is not necessarily the case just yet.

“We’re focused on the two parallel paths — Oakland and southern Nevada,” Kaval said. “That’s by the direction of the league, and that will remain our focus until they give us additional direction.”

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