Heavy rains lasted 20 minutes at Nats Park. But the bigger problem occurred when the grounds crew was unable to get the tarp on the field before the infield became unplayable.
The tarp somehow became tangled as the grounds crew tried to unroll it, preventing them from unfurling it in time to protect the infield from the heavy rain. Eventually, the sun came out and the grounds crew was able to roll up the tarp. But then they had to spend over 90 minutes trying to get the field ready for play.
Major League Baseball suspended the game after a two-hour, eight-minute delay, postponing the game until Friday, when it will resume at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the two teams begin a weekend series in Baltimore. The Nationals will remain the home team while the remainder is played out. The Orioles lead 5-2, and will have two men on with one out in the top of the sixth.
"The field was deemed unplayable," said manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video call. "We couldn't get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew because, personally, these guys, to me, are the best or, if not, one the best. It's just unfortunate that that happened.
"I think it was based on it wasn't the actual rain because it obviously ... did stop raining. It was the fact that we couldn't get the tarp on the field. There is a rule that states that because of mechanical error the game is suspended."
The relevant passage in the Official Baseball Rulebook is Rule 7.02(a)(3):
7.02 Suspended, Postponed, and Tie Games
(a) A game shall become a suspended game that must be completed at a future date if the game is terminated for any of the following reasons:
1. (3) Light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club (e.g., a retractable roof, a tarpaulin, or other water removal equipment);
Early on, the game was scoreless through four innings, with Asher Wojciechowski and Strasburg trading quality pitches.
Strasburg was smoothly going through the Orioles lineup the first four frames. The right-hander had to throw only 43 pitches, mixing his fastball with a curveball and changeup, holding the Orioles to two hits and no runs heading to the fifth.
But in the fifth, the Birds loaded the bases with one out. Austin Hays and Chance Sisco singled and Pat Valaika walked.
Catcher Bryan Holaday then singled to the opposite field to score Hays, and Hanser Alberto unleashed a two-run double down the left field line to plate Sisco and Valaika. Suddenly, the Orioles led 3-0.
Anthony Santander ended Strasburg's day with a two-run single to left field that scored Holaday and Alberto. The Orioles lead elevated to 5-0. Strasburg finished 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
The inning was a disaster for the Nats. Martinez had a chance to pull Strasburg prior to the Santander at-bat. But Strasburg waved him off.
"He said he was fine," Martinez said of the short discussion with Strasburg between batters. "We were going to go out there check on him. He said he was fine. So, I let him (stay) out there. He was actually throwing the ball well for that inning, so at the end there he started to get the ball up. The first few innings he was cruising, doing well."
The Orioles connected on five hits in the inning, highlighted by the back-to-back two-run hits from Alberto and Santander.
"My fastball command kind of escaped me there the last inning," Strasburg said during his Zoom call. "Obviously, I fell behind in some counts. Then when you kind of get to two strikes, I gave up a couple two-strike hits there that, again, you kind of want to make a better pitch than that with two strikes. You're kind of in the driver's seat.
"Typically, a hitter will shorten up and just try to use the whole field. I'm kind of helping them when I leave it over the plate. I need to make a better pitch next time."
Martinez was turned away from talking to Strasburg on the mound after the Alberto hit. Then Santander came up and made it 5-0.
"You can look at the negative, or you can look at the positive," Strasburg said. "I think there was a lot more positives. I'm just going to focus on that. Obviously, command and execution wasn't very good there in the fifth. They just hit a bunch of singles and found the right spots. So they made me pay for it."
The Nats offense was unable to get much going until the second inning. Juan Soto led off the frame with a double and AsdrÃºbal Cabrera followed with a single. But Eric Thames struck out and Carter Kieboom flew out to slow the rally. Yan Gomes fought to a full count and earned a walk to load the bases. Michael A. Taylor ran the count full too, but flew out to deep center field to end the inning.
The Nats showed some life against the Orioles bullpen. In the fifth, down 5-0, Adam Eaton doubled off reliever Shawn Armstrong. Starlin Castro followed with a two-run homer to left field, his first of the season. The Nats were down 5-2.
The rain delay began in the top of the sixth inning at 2:41 p.m. After the rain, the tarp malfunction and cleanup, the game was postponed at 4:49 p.m. Resumption of play will be Friday in Baltimore, prior to the regularly scheduled game.
As Martinez reflected postgame, Sunday felt similar to the way things have been going in this start-and-stop season affected mostly by the global pandemic. But injuries, the weather and other factors have further tested each team's will and focus.
"For me, honestly, it's part of this 2020 season," Martinez said. "It really is. There is going to be days when you don't know what to expect. This is part of it. So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game I told the guys, 'Hey, pack up, we are going to New York and get ready to play tomorrow. That's all we can do.'
"We are still in the game. We are down 5-2 in the top of the sixth inning. We will go Friday and try to finish this game and mount a comeback."