Against all odds, today’s game at Nationals Park began on time, with Trevor Williams getting Brandon Nimmo to fly out on his very first pitch at 4:05 p.m., only a few minutes after a steady rain began to fall from the sky.
The intensity of that rain only increased over the ensuing 38 minutes as the Nats took a 1-0 lead, then as the Mets put two runners on base with one out in the top of the third. At that point, with the infield soaked and outfielders unable to get any kind of solid footing chasing down fly balls, crew chief Paul Emmel finally called for the grounds crew to roll out the tarp, putting the game into a rain delay.
More than two hours later, the rain had stopped, the tarp was pulled and the grounds crew furiously got to work prepping that previously soaked infield. And kept prepping. And kept prepping. Never to the satisfaction of those who had the final say on whether or not to resume the game.
And then, finally, nearly four hours into the delay, the announcement was made: The field could not be made playable again, so the game was suspended, the Nationals still leading 1-0, both starting pitchers having long since run out of time to return.
They’ll now have to resume the game from this point at 12:35 p.m. Sunday, with only tickets from today’s game accepted. They’ll then have to play Sunday’s originally scheduled 1:35 p.m. game, now moved to 4:35 p.m. Fans holding those tickets can only attend the later game.
The sizable number of fans who waited it out today for nearly four hours with no updates provided along the way weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure.
"I'm going to sit here and apologize to the fans, because it took a while," manager Davey Martinez, the only person to speak publicly for the Nationals, said. "But we wanted to make sure we got it right. We wanted to give them a chance to try to get the field ready. We just didn't feel like it was safe for the players. And I thought we were all in agreement at that point, and that was it. Sometimes, Mother Nature gets the best of you, and there was nothing we could do about it."
The forecast looked shaky all along, with rain expected all afternoon. But with the skies still dry at 3:30 p.m., the tarp was pulled, the field was prepped and both starters made their way to their bullpens to begin warming up.
The rain began to fall around the time the national anthem was sung at 4 p.m., but not heavy enough to prevent the game from starting. Williams retired the side in the top of the first. The Nationals scored in the bottom of the first on Lane Thomas’ leadoff single, Luis García’s sacrifice bunt and Joey Meneses’ RBI single. They squandered a chance to score more, though, when Dominic Smith grounded into a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded.
With the rain falling harder and puddles developing around the infield despite the between-innings work of the grounds crew, Williams got into a jam in the top of the third, thanks in part to Michael Perez’s double to deep center that Alex Call had no chance of tracking down on the slippery turf.
That’s when Emmel finally decided enough was enough and called for the tarp, sending the game into a delay that lasted far longer than anyone could’ve anticipated.
"It got bad," Martinez said. "The reports were it was not supposed to rain. It started raining. It was supposed to rain light, and it got to the point where it got heavy. As we all saw, the field was getting really bad. The umpires made the right call by pulling everybody off the field."
The rain continued falling for about two hours. Once it stopped, the grounds crew emerged to pull the tarp and attempt to get the infield - which had become soaked from playing too long in the heavy rain - in playable shape. Emmel, Martinez and Mets manager Buck Showalter all came out to test the dirt and confer with head groundskeeper John Turnour. According to Martinez, both sides were in agreement the field was not safe but wanted to give the grounds crew time to try to make it better.
By 7:45 p.m., both managers and Emmel had retreated to their respective clubhouses. A few members of the grounds crew kept working on the field, but the signs of a likely suspension appeared to grow. Through it all, several thousand fans waited, at times booing, at times chanting "We want baseball!" but never getting any official information provided by the Nationals. No more work was being done on the field at that point.
Finally, at 8:39 p.m., some 3 hours and 56 minutes after the game went into delay, the announcement was made on the scoreboard: The game was being suspended.
"Look, I want to sit here and praise John Turnour," Martinez said. "He's one of the best. He had nothing to do with this. We went out there, me, Paul Emmel and Buck, and the field was wet. For me, at some point, you've got to think about the safety of the players."
Martinez still needed to devise a pitching plan for the final six-plus innings of the suspended game, who will take over for Williams and try to escape the jam and then who will pitch after that. Both teams will keep their original Sunday starters (Jake Irvin, Max Scherzer) on schedule to start the rescheduled 4:35 p.m. game. Both teams will be allotted a 27th man for that game, and Martinez revealed right-hander Joan Adon (who was scratched from his scheduled start for Triple-A Rochester tonight) will fill that role and be available out of the bullpen.
"I think we'll be in pretty good shape," Martinez said. "We get a 27th man for the second game. So that will definitely help."