There he was, foot skating across the base, knee grossly folding in the wrong direction, body somersaulting through the misty late night air – hair still looking glorious – and then crashing in pain onto the infield dirt.
Man, it looked awful. It looked like the end.
Just like Adam Eaton months earlier, Bryce Harper’s mishap at first base would, it seemed in the moment, put the Washington Nationals’ star slugger out for the season, further depleting a team that has so many weapons already on the shelf.
“Nationals Park is in a total hush,” Nats radio guy Dave Jageler said as trainers rushed out to Harper.
But the sun did rise the morning after that wet night in the District. An MRI revealed no structural damage, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo assured us it was only a deep bone bruise on Harp’s left knee.
Nats fans exhaled.
“Thank you, Lord, that Bryce Harper did not shred any ligaments,” Grant Paulsen said on his D.C. sports radio show Monday morning.
The news that Harper was being placed on the 10-day disabled list, with a return projected sometime before the playoffs, was like a total solar eclipse happening on your birthday, which also happens to fall on Thanksgiving Day.
This near tragedy, however, was yet another soggy side note to what otherwise has been a season as bright as the rainbow emblazoned on the team’s new Skittles-themed tarp that had covered the field for three hours before the Harper’s calamity.
As I write, the Nationals stand 14 games ahead of the Miami Marlins in the National League East. Harper is having another MVP season. Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman are fueling a high-powered offense.
They’ve had their fair share of injuries (see: Eaton, Turner, Werth, Strasburg, Glover, Taylor, Drew, Ross and so on) but guys named Difo, Sanchez and Goodwin have surprisingly kept the team moving forward. Not treading water, but building upon the division lead.
And Rizzo’s annual trade deadline wizardry has made the bullpen great (maybe) again.
But when it comes to dealing with rainy days, the Nats play the game like the 1886 version of the Washington ball club.
When it rains, and even when it only threatens to rain but doesn’t, the Nats have issues. Criticism has been plentiful, from fans, media, old clown play-by-play announcers of a division rival… and even from Washington players. Gio Gonzalez let his frustration show when the team delayed a game start for hours even though it barely sprinkled.
And Harper, the day after his slip and spill, took a slight shot at the decision to play Saturday night following a 3-hour delay and rain still drumming the field.
“I don’t like wet bases,” he said between games of a day-night doubleheader Sunday with the San Francisco Giants.
Harper thought about Eaton, he said, while he was rolling on the ground, clutching his knee, giving us all heart attacks.
“Then I thought to myself, it’s 10 o’clock at night and we’re playing the game in the rain,” he recalled. “So, I was really upset about that as well. But you know, it’s just a freak accident, a freak situation.”
True, but was it avoidable?
Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, is asking Major League Baseball what it can do to ensure the safety of its players when rain, falling light enough to continue play, is turning the base bags into a slip and slide.
“In this instance with Bryce’s injury, you step on a base and you cannot have it be that slick and it obviously was caused by precipitation and inclement weather. The safeguards are so simple and immediate,” Boras said.
“You can certainly have people, the umpire checking the bag, even pitch-by-pitch. You can have the grounds crew, certainly, called in, or you can have it done between each field exchange by the teams. So, there’s a number of things that aren’t done that could be done rather simply.”
In another interview earlier in the week, Boras made comparisons to the NBA, where action is quickly stopped to wipe up sweat, or whatever, from the court.
Is that a practical solution? Should it be a job for the umpires to periodically wipe off the bases? Every few pitches? How often, I guess, depends on how steadily the rain is falling.
Since Harper’s injury, much discussion has been focused on improving base technology, giving the bag more traction as runners make contact.
“When you have an elite athlete touching in the very middle of the bag and just sliding across, it’s like ice on cement,” Boras said. “So, it’s really something we need more clarification and standards and study to ensure player safety.”
Maybe Boras is on to something. If there’s a base technology that can be used that would allow the bag remain relatively dry throughout a steady rain and not cause players to slip like they were in the shower, as Harper said he felt Saturday night, then the simple logistics of replacing bases is well worth it to save a player’s health, his season and potentially his career.
Are the Nationals the baseball weather story of the year?
Each year, I think about writing a post listing the top 10 baseball weather stories of the year. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe this is the year. Last year’s top story developed during the final game of the season, the World Series Game 7 rain delay that allowed the Cubs to regroup and capture the team’s first title in 108 years. Hands down, that was the baseball weather story of the year.
Not nearly as significant and captivating is this year’s top story… so far: the Nationals struggles with weather delays. Are the Nats really this bad at dealing with the weather, or have they simply had a run of bad luck this year?
I’d like to think it’s the latter. However, after tracking the events of Friday night, it’s difficult to not believe the team just can’t get its stuff together.
After a long rain delay of the series opener with the San Francisco Giants that night, the game was finally called and postponed more than two hours after the scheduled start. Players were seen leaving the ballpark. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy was called in to chat with media around 9:15 p.m., according to the Washington Post. There was only one problem: Someone forgot to tell the fans at the ballpark until about 30 minutes later.
Rain Delay Theater… on Twitter
During Friday night’s lengthy rain delay, Nationals TV play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter answered questions on Twitter. Of course, I had to jump in with a weather-related question, but nothing hard-hitting about the Nats’ weather problems. On short notice, the best I question I could think of was: What’s your most memorable rain delay moment?
Yeah, I know. I could have done better. But to my surprise, Carpenter quickly answered with this witty gem:
Not for publication. What happens in the booth when we’re off air, stays in booth.
— Bob Carpenter (@scorebook_bob) August 12, 2017
Picturesque PNC Park
The week’s post can’t be all about the Nats, so to close, let’s go out the PNC Park where, rain or shine, it’s always postcard-perfect. The Pirates posted this photo on Twitter Thursday night to announce the team’s game with the Cardinals would be briefly delayed by rain.
A little delay tonight due to the weather, but we anticipate a 7:25pm first pitch. pic.twitter.com/6WdExlmaTy
— Pirates (@Pirates) August 17, 2017
And later, this:
— Matthew Frey (@mfreyd) August 18, 2017