CHICAGO – The Cubs were willing to suspend Tuesday night’s game and resume at a later date. The Giants, thirsty for victories, wanted nothing more than that.
But a set of complicated rules, plus one incredibly inept effort at pulling a tarp, led to more than four hours of hand-sitting followed by the news that Bruce Bochy did not want to hear: The game was called, and the Cubs were awarded a 2-0 victory after 4 ½ innings at Wrigley Field.
The Giants expected to file a protest, knowing their only hope was a narrow one: Commissioner Bud Selig invoking the rarely used “best interests of baseball” clause.
“I’m frustrated. I’m beside myself,” Bochy said. “It’s probably not the right frame of mind for me (to comment) because it’s my last recourse. I hope they listen and watch what happened there.
“In this day and age, it cannot happen. It shouldn’t happen. So I’ll leave it at that.”
Here’s what happened: A light rain began in the top of the fifth inning, with the Cubs leading 2-0 on the strength of Anthony Rizzo’s tape-measure home run in the first off Ryan Vogelsong. Buster Posey popped out for the third out in the fifth, making it a regulation game.
Third-base umpire and crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt checked with the Cubs’ grounds crew director to get a weather update and was told the forecast called for five to 10 minutes of light rain.
Then the drizzle turned violent.
“It wasn’t even showing on the radar,” Wendelstedt told a pool reporter. “Once it started raining heavy, we called for the tarp immediately. I looked and even as it was raining heavily there was nothing on the radar. Nobody had any facts that saw this coming.
“It was just a bad set of unfortunate events that led us to this.”
The Cubs grounds crew had to act swiftly. In their haste, they rolled out the tarp at a bad angle, causing large portions of the infield to be as poorly covered as Jane Fonda in “Barbarella.” The accumulated rain made it too heavy to adjust.
It rained all of 15 minutes but the damage was done. The next four hours involved more activity than an ant farm, with several dozen bags of clay dumped and spread over the infield to no avail. Despite two checks from Bochy, the umpires and Cubs manager Rick Renteria, the field was still soft.
“It was 15 minutes of rain there and they couldn’t get the tarp on in time,” Bochy said. “In this day and time, something should’ve been done a little bit more.”
That was the Giants’ contention: they were told the Cubs would do “everything in their power to make the field playable,” but the last 90 minutes of the delay involved one man and one rake.
“You know what? I’m done,” said Bochy, cutting his session with reporters short.
Giants GM Brian Sabean is on the trip but wasn’t available for comment.
Wendelstedt said umpires and Major League Baseball officials had “20 or 30 communications” during the delay.
“The office of commissioner takes this very seriously and all parties involved were kept up to date on every detail as it developed,” Wendelstedt said. “There was nothing to put our hat on to suspend the game. It became a regulation game with the home team winning. There was really no way around it. We have no decision about that.”
The only decision the umpires had, and the only route that could have saved the Giants, was whether to restart the game Tuesday night. After a final check of the field and meeting with both managers just after 1 a.m. Chicago time, Wendelstedt waved off the game.
Bochy said the Giants were ready to resume play as the delay stretched from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, even though bench coach Ron Wotus acknowledged the field was soft. And although Renteria told umpires he didn’t want to risk the health of his players by resuming play, Cubs GM Theo Epstein said he was willing to treat it as a suspended game and pick up play prior to Wednesday night’s game.
“Honestly, we tried every way possible for the sake of fairness and equity to get to the point of a suspended game and allow the teams to play nine tomorrow, but the rules don’t provide for that,” Epstein said.
“Both team and the umpires and MLB wanted to do the right thing, wanted to get nine innings in, but the rule is specifically written and doesn’t provide for the circumstances we had tonight. Maybe it’s something that’s addressed in the future. But for 2014, those are the rules.”
It’s Rule 4.12 that covers suspensions. There are only six conditions by which a regulation (official) game can be suspended rather than called. One of the conditions describes a “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 their manual tarp on the field in time following a sudden rainstorm and were awarded a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers after 4 ½ innings.
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, a tarp malfunction, mechanical or otherwise, didn’t stop the game. The rain did. So the game could not be suspended as a result of any ensuing tarp issue.
In other-other words, the Giants’ only chance was to keep lobbying for play to resume Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
Vogelsong said even while it was raining, he expected to be able to go back to the mound for the bottom of the fifth.
“The longer and longer it took (to prepare the field), I knew I wouldn’t go back out,” Vogelsong said. “But I was hoping at least we could play and they’d give us a chance.”
Instead, a team in the throes of two playoff races waited for four hours for nothing but bitterness, with the wary thought that their mental accounting will lead them to one place if they end up missing the postseason by one game.
And all the while, during the delay, the Cubs cut off alcohol sales. It was a dry stadium in one respect only.