They may have had different reasons for it, but the Nationals and Cubs were united in their displeasure with the end result of Friday night’s scheduled game.
For those who missed it (or fell asleep along the way), a recap: The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 21 minutes due to rain, then started only to be halted after 23 minutes due to more rain. Then after waiting another 2 hours, 54 minutes for the rain to clear out, the game was postponed and rescheduled as a straight doubleheader today. Even though it wasn’t raining anymore.
“It was kind of confusing to us, also,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters this afternoon. “Played when we shouldn’t have, then did not play when we should have.”
Maddon and his team clearly weren’t happy with the process that played out Friday night, capped by the postponement of the game more than 4 1/2 hours after it was scheduled to begin. Given the fact they waited that long, the Cubs figured they might as well go ahead and try to finish the game, even with the resumption in the top of the second coming post-midnight.
The Nationals, though, were not keen on that option. And given what happened one year ago, when Bryce Harper suffered a significant knee injury slipping on first base early in a game that was delayed three hours by rain, can you blame them for their caution?
“Starting the game past midnight on a wet field, that has a lot of people around here really, really uneasy,” said closer Sean Doolittle, who was serving as the Nats’ player rep because Max Scherzer had already gone home to rest up for his start today. “I don’t know if it’s in the best interest of player safety. You’re playing that game when you’re super tired and groggy. You’re playing way into the early morning hours. Then you’re going to play the next game really tired as well. So, that snowball effect.”
Players from both clubs, and a representative of the players’ union, were involved in the discussions that took place during the second delay and the rescheduling of the game. But it needs to be emphasized here that the final calls - on the decision to start the game, and then the decision to postpone the game - were made by Major League Baseball, not by either team, not by the umpires and not by the players.
Everyone on-site seemed to realize what league officials in New York did not: There wasn’t going to be enough of a window to get a regulation game in.
“MLB took control of the game right away,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “They deemed that we could start the game. We started the game, and next thing you know it started pouring. They pulled the tarp, and we sat there. Because we knew it was going to rain. But they wanted to wait.”
Stuck in the middle of all this was Joe Ross, who was making his return after a 14-month absence following Tommy John surgery. Ross came out of the chute firing, consistently throwing his fastball 95-96 mph and topping out at 97, numbers that exceeded his pre-surgery radar readings.
“He was electric,” Martinez said.
“Definitely adrenaline a little bit,” Ross said. “Just the excitement of being back on the field and pitching in our stadium in front of our fans again.”
The Nationals, though, didn’t get to find out if Ross could sustain it. He faced only seven batters, retiring five, and threw only 24 pitches before the tarp was pulled back over the infield.
Because the game was postponed before the minimum 4 1/2 innings were played, none of the stats count and there will be no record of anything that took place.
“It was just frustrating delaying the game and then getting rained out in the second inning,” he said. “But I felt good. My stuff felt good.”
Ross perhaps was hoping he might be allowed to return if the second delay was brief, but Martinez told him immediately it wouldn’t happen: “You were awesome, but you’re done.”
As everyone sat around waiting during the long delay, discussions were taking place between all parties. Those involved suggested the communications went well, and all sides’ voices were taken into consideration. The Cubs, though, were left upset when MLB wouldn’t re-start the game after all the rain finally cleared out, due to the late hour and the wet field.
“We wanted to play last night,” Maddon said. “We wanted two one-gamers. We waited as long as we did, then the skies were absolutely clear from that moment on. And they said they could not be sure there not would be another pop up, which ... I’m beyond an amateur meteorologist. I can see that it wasn’t going to rain anymore. So, kind of confusing to us, also.”
The Nationals didn’t agree with their opposition on this point.
“The Cubs were kind of holding out hope that we were gonna catch a window a little bit later,” Doolittle said. “We were like: ‘No. The weather here? Trust us. Once it starts, sometimes it doesn’t stop.’”
Once it was determined the game would be postponed, they still had to settle on a make-up plan. Teams prefer to hold day-night doubleheaders, because that allows for two separate tickets and proceeds. Players prefer a straight, single-admission doubleheader, because it takes less time.
In this case, the players won out, because both teams had already played three day-night doubleheaders this season. And per the collective bargaining agreement, players from both sides have to consent to a fourth day-night doubleheader.
“Obviously, players much prefer to do a straight doubleheader,” Doolittle said. “It’s a little bit easier. It’s a lot less time at the field hanging between games. But most organizations want to do a split doubleheader, because they get the money for two games. So, just a lot of moving parts on both sides, trying to figure that out.”
The final solution: A straight doubleheader, beginning at 3:05 p.m. today.
The only problem: It began raining around 1:50 p.m., and the grounds crew rolled the tarp out again.
And so the first game of today’s doubleheader is currently - you guessed it - delayed by rain.