CHICAGO -– Only the Cubs. Only in the 100th anniversary of baseball at Wrigley Field.
A vicious rainstorm lasted just 15 minutes in the middle of the fifth inning Tuesday night. But because the grounds crew awkwardly placed the tarp on the infield like a 5-year-old trying to wrap a Christmas present, the brief downpour was enough to render the field unplayable – just moments after Buster Posey popped out to make it a regulation game.
Four-plus hours of effort and non-effort to dry out the field were unsuccessful and that left an even sloppier quagmire between the Giants, the Cubs and Major League Baseball officials.
Ultimately, despite the home team’s tarp incompetence (intarpetence?), the game was called and a 2-0 victory awarded to the last-place Cubs – a decision that heavily penalized the Giants, who are in the throes of an actual pennant race.
It was believed the Giants played the game under protest.
A game becomes regulation after five complete innings (with no ties) or when the home team leads after 4 ½ innings. According to Rule 4.12, a regulation game can be suspended, and resumed at a later date, for only six reasons.
Weather is not among them. But the third condition would seem to apply on some level: “Light failure or malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club. (Mechanical field device shall include automatic tarpaulin or water removal equipment).”
The problem: the Cubs don’t use a mechanical tarp, and precedent had been set on July 23, when the Yankees couldn’t get the tarp on the field in time following a sudden rainstorm and they were awarded a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers after 4 ½ innings.
Even if the Cubs had accepted blame and agreed to a resumption in play, MLB officials would have to explain to the Rangers why they ruled two different ways on two very similar situations.
(Of course, the Rangers aren’t in a pennant race, either.)
Here’s one more snippet from the official rules, under the notes section of Rule 4.12: “If a game is halted by weather, and subsequent light failure or an intervening curfew or time limit prevents its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. If a game is halted by light failure, and weather or field conditions prevent its resumption, the game shall not be a suspended game. A game can only be considered a suspended game if stopped for any of the six reasons specified in Rule 4.12(a).”
In other words, the tarp malfunction didn’t stop the game. The rain did. So the game could not be suspended as a result. In other-other words, the Giants’ only chance was to keep lobbying for play to resume Tuesday night.
Let’s back up and run through what happened at Wrigley:
A vicious but brief rainstorm pelted the field in the middle of the fifth inning and as they’ve done a million times, the grounds crew rushed to unroll the tarp on the field. Except this time they were too hasty, they unrolled it askew, the tarp didn’t cover the entire infield, too much water collected on it too fast and it was too heavy to adjust – a series of events that created a new Great Lake on the middle infield.
They finally had to peel back the tarp halfway, adjust it and reposition it. Even then, the tarp had more coverage issues than Jane Fonda in “Barbarella.”
It rained for no more than 15 minutes. The delay to prepare the field took more than three hours. And even after an inspection and reinspection by both managers and crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt, with more bags of clay and furious raking from the army ants in blue shirts, it still wasn’t considered playable.
The only winners – other than the Cubs -- were shareholders in the company that makes calcinated clay. There might not be a bag of Turface left in the state of Illinois.
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first tarp malfunction between the Cubs and Giants this year. Back in spring training, the Cubs had to cancel their second ever Cactus League game in their new, $99 million facility when the grounds crew took the tarp off the field the wrong way following a cloudburst, rendering the field unplayable under suddenly sunny skies. The Giants were the Cubs’ opponent that day; they later scheduled a B game with no paid fans between the clubs
But that was a brand new crew from Arizona, who didn’t take lessons beyond Garden Hose Essentials 101. This was a major league crew in a stadium that sees inclement weather all the time.
Among the laments for the Giants is that the rain started as they batted in the top of the fifth inning. Posey popped up for the third out -- making it an official game -- and moments later the sideways downpour came. If Wendelstedt had been a little quicker to alert the grounds crew to take action, the entire calamity might have been avoided.
Starting pitching report
When Ryan Vogelsong makes a mistake, he pays through the nose for it. He received zero runs of support for the ninth time in 25 starts, and for the seventh time in his last 10 outings.
He made that mistake right away, walking rookie Javier Baez before throwing a 2-0 changeup that Anthony Rizzo drove over the right field bleachers, onto Sheffield Avenue, and maybe even past the turnstiles and onto a southbound Red Line train.
It wasn’t the only hard contact against Vogelsong. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara doubled in the second inning and Rizzo placed a double down the right field line in the third, but the right-hander managed to escape both jams.
The initial rain delay wasn’t terribly long, so Vogelsong might have been able to resume his outing in the fifth inning if not for the tarp malfunction and ensuing lake in the middle infield. After that calamity, though, there was no way Vogelsong would return.
They needed carports over the bullpens here.
At the plate
The Giants couldn’t come up with a clutch hit in five innings against lefty Tsuyoshi Wada and his stop-and-start delivery.
Michael Morse chased high fastballs to strike out in his first at-bat, ending a streak of reaching base in nine consecutive plate appearances (and hits in seven consecutive at-bats). Morse really tied himself in knots while striking out in his next trip, too.
Hunter Pence, Joaquin Arias and Angel Pagan hit doubles in the first, second and fifth innings, respectively, but did not score. Buster Posey came ot bat three times with runners on base and made three easy outs in the air.
If they had restarted the game, Brandon Crawford might have been the first player in history to go on the DL because of lightning sand.
The Cubs did not immediately announce a paid attendance. But I’m told they halted alcohol sales not long into the delay. Oh, the irony of ironies: a dry ballpark!
Break out your hip waders! The Giants and Cubs continue their three-game series on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Jake Peavy (1-3, 3.86 ERA) takes the mound against Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson (6-13, 5.74). First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. PDT.