Sitting in Section 136 at Nationals Park Sunday night, I felt a bit hypocritical.
As the skies darkened over the ballpark and my wife examined the approaching green blob on her weather radar phone app, I was quietly hoping for the rain to pass us by.
Yeah, the guy who has been writing The Rainout Blog for the past 13 years, was rooting for a dry evening at the ballpark.
Not for selfish reasons, though.
It was the very first major league game for my wife and two kids. We were in the fourth inning, and I didn’t want to risk the game being called because of rain and spoiling their first big league experience, especially as they were munching Curly W pretzles on Max Scherzer eye patch night.
The Nationals trailed 2-0, but were rallying as a steady drizzle began. Anthony Rendon led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run to left field, slicing the deficit to 2-1. Then, three consecutive Washington singles from Juan Soto, Daniel Murphy and my guy, Michael A. Taylor, tied the game at 2-2.
Rain continued, just enough to get the park wet. It seemed like no big deal to me, but several fans hustled toward the exits as if a tornado were about to barrel through.
We stuck it out there in Row T, seats 1,2,3 and 4.
As the rain intensity increased, I suddenly began rooting for it to continue. This could be fun, I thought. This could be a blog post. Perhaps, I simply knew my previous wishes were no match against those dark, ominous clouds hanging above our heads.
Then the drizzle turned into a downpour. I got out my phone to take photos and a few videos. I’m sure I was the only person trying to capture images of rain pelting the ballpark.
Umpires suddenly ushered the players off the field. Out came the grounds crew, stretching the Skittles tarp across the infield.
We, too, then headed for the concourse. I tried to get into a good position to photograph the tarp, but my angle was bad.
We didn’t need to wait long for the rain to move on. It stopped minutes later, the grounds crew dumped water from the tarp and prepped the field with what I’m told is glorified kitty litter.
In the meantime, my wife, armed with napkins she had stuffed in her pockets earlier at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop on 3rd Street SW – she’s always prepared – wiped dry our wet seats. I broke down and bought everyone $7 sodas.
The game resumed after a 38-minute weather delay. The Nats had runners on first and second with no outs. And just as I pessimistically suspected, the rain killed the rally. Phillies’ pitcher Nick Pivetta had something to do with it, too. He struck out the next three batters he faced. The bottom of the order, mind you.
Rain over. Rally over. Breathing a sigh of relief, the Phillies quickly moved to close out the hometown club in the fifth.
Nats’ starter Jefry Rodriguez began the inning walking Cesar Hernandez, and then he hit Rhys Hoskins to put runners at first and second with no one out. Hard-throwing Sammy Solis relieved Rodriguez and immediately gave up a bases-clearing triple to Odubel Herrera. It was 4-2 Phillies.
Two batters later Nick Williams slammed a Solis pitch 421 feet to center field. The ball just cleared the wall, but hearing the collision between the bat and ball you knew it was a goner. Williams’ ninth homer of the year gave the Phillies a 6-2 lead.
The four-run deficit was a bit deflating for the four of us and the few others who had stuck around after the rain. I’m sure a lot of folks had to work the next day. I’m sure I saw a lot of them bleary-eyed on the Metro the next morning.
But as the night cleared and the game wore on, the Nationals clawed their way back.
In the bottom of the sixth, Adam Eaton entered the game as a pinch hitter and spanked a two-out single to center. Trea Turner put some life into the ballpark when he smoked a liner to left that zipped by a diving Hoskins and rolled to the wall. Eaton easily scored, and Turner had a triple. The score was 6-3 Philadelphia.
I was sure Turner had an inside-the-park homer – I was waving him around – but he held up at third with Bryce Harper coming to bat.
Austin Davis came in to pitch. With the count 2-0, Harper drove the next pitch high and far. I stood up and shouted, “There it goes!” thinking it was as a good as gone.
It thumped off the top of the wall, just above the out-of-town scoreboard.
I’m an idiot.
Harper just missed his 20th home run of the season by inches, but he rolled into second with a double and Turner scored. Rendon next drove home Harper with a double, closing the Nats to within a run.
Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk, and Harper moved him to third with his third double of the contest.
The Phils next chose to walk Juan Soto, with Daniel Murphy on deck. You can understand the reasoning. Soto has been a hitting machine since arriving from the minors a few weeks ago, and Murphy has been slow to get his swing back since joining the lineup after surgery.
But, man, with Murphy’s penchant for slugging big hits in clutch situations, I thought it was gutsy move from Phillies’ manager Gabe Kapler.
“Murph is going to make them pay,” I said to anyone who was listening… which was no one.
Anyway, unlike my Harper homer prediction earlier in the game, I was right this time. Murphy swung at a low pitch and clubbed it just over the second baseman’s head. Goodwin scored. Harper scored. And the Nats had a 7-6 lead.
If you were watching on ESPN, you can see in the background as Murphy stands on first, my wife and daughter clapping and my son giving me a double high five.
Michael A. gave the home team an insurance run with a single to center that scored Soto.
As the eighth inning ended, I ran over to the wall, which was near the Nationals bullpen, just in time to snap a couple of photos of closer Sean Doolittle running out on to the field. An ESPN cameraman tried to keep up behind him as the crowd droned “Doooooooooooo!”
Doolittle recorded the save. The Nats won 8-6.
As I’ve been telling everyone since, the game had just about everything you could ask for: A comeback win for the home team, home runs – although two of those were by the wrong team – doubles, a triple, stolen bases, diving catches – Difo!!! – and, or course, a rain delay.
As we look ahead to the 2018 MLB season – and wonder why the offseason is moving slower than Justin Smoak – we are reminded that no matter how hard we wish it were spring, winter is just getting into its windup, man. This week’s “bomb cyclone” exploding on the East Coast, including Yankee Stadium as seen above, is our latest evidence.
Yeah, pitchers and catchers report to warmer environs in Florida and Arizona in about six weeks, but we still have a long way to go before Opening Day.
Below are more images from East Coast ballparks that likely will make you wish spring could get here faster than Trea Turner stealing third.
And one more from the Bronx
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
I’d love to see the route efficiency number on Stephen Drew’s circuitous pursuit of a Cesar Hernandez infield popup at Nationals Park on Thursday.
Drew, playing short for the Nats, positioned himself underneath the high flying ball, for a second, and then had to sprint to his right and in a bit to chase down the falling spheroid.
“There’s a lot of things going on right there, twilight, wind,” Nationals’ TV commentator F.P. Santangelo said.
From the looks of the play, it was mostly wind. You could see it rustling past Jonathan Papelbon’s sleeves as the cameras flashed back to the Nats’ closer. You could see it a few moments early when a strong breeze appeared to push a Cameron Rupp drive to right over the head of Bryce Harper.
(Can we also blame the wind for the Nationals scoring zero runs, getting only six base hits in two games and making the Phillies’ pitching staff look like the ’96 Atlanta Braves’ hurlers?)
It was a bit nasty in the district Thursday… both the baseball and the weather.
The temperature dipped to the low 50s, and the game’s first pitch was delayed 36 minutes by rain.
According to data from Weather Underground, wind speed was hitting around 15 mph at the time of Drew’s infield adventure. You can be a weather-no-nothing like me and still know that’s not a lot, but it was enough play havoc on balls hit toward the coulds in the top of the ninth inning.
Up the road a bit in Baltimore, where the hot-hitting Orioles cooled the first-place Chicago White Sox, temperatures fell to 48 degrees on an overcast night and Rich Dubroff of CSN Mid-Atlantic wondered if it would ever be warm again for baseball.
The game time temperature equaled April 6 for the Orioles’ “second coldest temperature at first pitch,” Dubroff wrote.
The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck wrote today that perhaps the cold weather in Baltimore is helping the AL East-leading O’s stay hot.
“I have an outlandish theory that the Orioles have shown more plate discipline at Camden Yards because it has been so cold most of the time they haven’t been in a hurry to swing the bat,” Schmuck wrote.
Of the six games played outdoors Thursday, five had temperatures of 55 or below. It was 45 in Detroit and at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, 55 at first pitch in Washington and 50 in Boston.
The Rockies and Pirates had the finale of their three-game series postponed by rain and snow and 38-degree temperatures at Coors Field Thursday. That seemed to be OK for Walt Weiss, skipper of the struggling Rockies.
“I’m not going to kick and scream if we don’t play,” he said before the game was called.
The cool trend continues Friday. It’ll be 47 for the Cubs’ game in Wrigley, 48 in Boston, 50 in Philadelphia, 53 at Citi Field in New York, 54 in Baltimore, 56 in Minneapolis, 58 in Pittsburgh and 68 with a chance of rain in St. Louis.
What does it take to get the reigning National League MVP’s bat hot on a cool night in Washington, D.C.?
A dugout heater, of course.
Bryce Harper was 0-for-3 Tuesday night and his club was struggling to put runs across the plate against a winless Atlanta Braves team. The Nats’ fortunes changed, however, in the eighth with runners on first and second and Harper due to arrive at the plate.
Moments before he climbed out the dugout, MASN cameras spotted Harper warming his hands and bat in front of an orange floor heater.
“Going no gloves, keeping the hands warm. Maybe heating that pine tar up a little,” said Nationals TV commentator F.P. Santangelo. “When you put that bat in front of the warmer it makes that pine tar a little bit wet again. It (pine tar) will get cold on a night like tonight and get real dry.”
Whether it was warming his hands, his bat or both, the technique worked on this 51-degree night. (Or, maybe it was the fact that No. 34 is quite the slugger.)
Harper slapped the first pitch he saw from Braves’ lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty into left field. Jeff Francoeur attempted a diving catch, but the ball bopped off his glove, giving Harper a two-run double as Stephen Drew and Anthony Rendon scored.
Temps in D.C. are expected to be about the same Wednesday night, in the mid to low 50s, so perhaps the entire team should gather around the heater and not wait until the eighth inning to put away the Braves.
— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) April 13, 2016
Note: If you’ve ever struggled with a poncho and embarrassed yourself silly at a sporting event, I’d like to hear from you for a fun story on The Rainout Blog – particularly if your epic struggles happened on national TV. Just click on the contact tab at the top and send me a message.
“It’s more important, at this point, to find the face hole.”
Truer words could not have been spoken Monday night when, once again, fans – yes, there were two this time – at a Major League ballpark struggled with the basics of donning a poncho.
I’m not making fun of the fans. Clearly, these poncho things are far more complicated than we might think.
Let’s set the scene of the most recent attack…
The Cubbies were batting against the visiting Dodgers in the top of the eighth inning when rain began to fall on Wrigley Field. The Dodgers’ TV crew spotted a couple of female Cubs fans quickly trying to protect themselves from the precipitation. Dodgers’ broadcaster Charlie Steiner, who gave us the “finding the face hole” quote above, describes the action.
Take it Charlie…
Watch the Video
(I have yet to confirm a rumor that Steiner jumped out of the press box to help the two fans, yelling “Follow me! Follow me to freedom!” )
This week’s poncho tussle is far less agonizing to watch than last week’s fight against death in Washington, D.C. We thought that guy was going to need medical assistance if he didn’t get air soon.
Also worth noting, the two Cubs fans received a helping hand from a friendly woman sitting behind them at the Friendly Confines. That didn’t happen last week in D.C.
Nope. “The two clowns behind him,” as Keith Olbermann called them, were too busy taking a selfie and one was chugging a beer.
WORSTS: The fan in front is close to asphyxiating himself inside a rain poncho and you’re TAKING A SELFIE? VIDEO: http://t.co/FPwthb4ivA
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) June 18, 2015
Thankfully, each of the fans – the one at Nationals Park and the two in Wrigleyville – survived what could have been vicious poncho attacks.
I’m sure – although I haven’t checked – ponchos come equipped with safety instructions warning of potential suffocation. But after these two incidents and another way back in spring training, poncho labels should also read… Warning: May cause public humiliation at ballparks and on national TV.
Max Scherzer’s bid for a perfect game on a sticky Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C., was spoiled only by a diving left elbow.
The Pirates’ Jose Tabata stood at the plate in the top of the ninth with his team having yet to get a base runner against the Nationals’ righty. Scherzer fired a 2-2 pitch inside to Tabata and the pinch hitter, doing what good competitors do, learned into the pitch with his heavily padded left elbow.
Home plate umpire Mike Muchlinksi signaled Tabata to first base, and just like that, Scherzer’s perfect day vanished.
However, pitching through humidity nearly as thick as the chocolate syrup his teammates doused him with during the customary post-game TV interview, Scherzer retired Josh Harrison on a long fly to left, securing a no-hitter, only the second in the Nationals’ 10-year history.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 20, 2015
Scherzer not only had to battle the red hot Pirates – they had won eight in a row before losing in Washington Friday night – but also the thick humidity at Nationals Park.
“It was pretty exhausting out there; it was pretty hot and humid,” Scherzer said in the post-game press conference. “Going through the first six innings, it was pretty tiring and exhausting, just mentally.”
Scherzer said the Nationals’ offensive outpouring in the sixth inning – the team scored four runs in that frame – helped him catch his breath and cool off.
“Guys just stepped up to the plate and did their job,” he said. “I just felt like that gave me a break, you know, just gave me some time to recuperate, sit in the clubhouse in some air conditioning to kind of rest up. And then I felt strong. I felt like I could get out there and come with my best fastball for the last three innings.”
Scherzer was asked about his in-game superstitions throughout pitching a perfect game and whether he talked with teammates between innings.
“No, I’m not really talking to teammates, it’s just either get some water or I need a new jersey and a new shirt,” he said. “And so I’m just changing my jersey and shirt to try and stay dry because it was pretty humid. I was sweating pretty good today.”
The Nats ace said he changed his jersey about every inning.