Manager Mike Quade of the Chicago Cubs argues with umpires Marty Foster and Jeff Nelson after being ejected by Foster during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Someone needs to explain to MLB honchos the concept of a "rain delay" or "rainout".
In 2011, games have been played, not just in Chicago but in many cities, through conditions that would five or ten years ago have at the very least resulted in delays, if not postponements.
Yes, we know. There's a lot of money at stake in postponing games (and if this one had been rained out it wouldn't have been made up, likely costing the Cubs over $1 million). But at some point, playing in moderate to heavy rain with an extremely wet field is going to get someone seriously injured. What happens when a star player suffers a season-ending -- or worse, career-ending -- injury under conditions like Sunday afternoon's at Wrigley Field?
It hasn't happened yet. But it will. And things never seem to change in baseball until there's a disaster. So we'll wait, and have games played in worse and worse weather, until such an event happens.
The Cubs wound up losing this wet match to the Astros 3-2, and truth be told, through raindrops from basically the first pitch, there was quite a bit of entertainment value in Sunday's game.
First of all, there's no question that the call made on Carlos Pena's ball that hit the top of the basket -- the yellow rubber hosing that denotes the home run line -- was correct. The ball did not leave the park; it only missed by a couple of inches. This was confirmed not only by replays but by someone I know who sits right there and told me that as we were leaving when the rain delay was called (no, I wasn't about to sit through that). About two inches higher and the Cubs would have had a 4-3 win (presuming Carlos Marmol would have held the Astros scoreless in the ninth, not necessarily a no-brainer, at least this year).
The issue Mike Quade brought up -- and was eventually tossed for, tying the team manager ejection record with his seventh -- was that Starlin Castro should have been allowed to score the tying run. Castro, with good speed, would likely have scored easily as the ball bounced far away from the Houston outfielders. Quade had a point. But after video review of the play, crew chief Jeff Nelson placed Castro on third and Pena on second, and there they stayed when J.B. Shuck, who had just come into the game in right field in a double switch, made a nice running catch on a Marlon Byrd fly ball that was tailing away from him. If he misses that ball, both runners score and we're talking about a Cubs win this evening instead of a loss.
After the rain delay, Astros closer Mark Melancon came back -- he had recorded the out on Byrd in the eighth -- and struck out the side in the ninth to finish it.
Before that, we were amused when Tony Campana hit a ground ball to Carlos Lee at first base and just stopped running, forcing Lee to chase after him and tag him out. The contrast between Lee, who's listed at 6-2, 265, and Campana, who's... smaller... was funny. It would have been funnier if Campana had started backpedaling, but maybe ballplayers' brains don't work that way when they're soggy.
The loss means that the Cubs will not have a winning season at home; they're 37-41 with three games remaining. The Brewers won their game on Sunday, reducing their magic number to four; if the Phillies beat the Cardinals Sunday night that could be reduced further to three. In any case, it is quite possible that Milwaukee could clinch the NL Central title at Wrigley this week, something I personally hope the Cubs can prevent them from doing. The Cubs did beat the Brewers three of four at Wrigley in June. The Phillies had a very low-key reaction to their division clinching Saturday night; knowing the antics that the Brewers have pulled in the past, I would expect theirs to be... somewhat more "outgoing", which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Back to the issue of playing through this sort of weather. MLB puts the umpires, not the clubs, in charge of the final series of the season between two teams, so this one isn't on Cubs management. It appears to me that there's been some sort of edict issued to play every single game through nine innings; this has become much more common since Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, during which, you may recall, Bud Selig made the Phillies and Rays play through horrific weather conditions until the Rays tied the game and he could order it suspended.
In this case, there was far less at stake. MLB has an "official game" rule, games played through five innings, or 4-1/2 if the home team is ahead. Once this game got through eight innings, with rain falling and nothing riding on the outcome, what was the point of coming back to play one more inning? This is the second time this month the Cubs have been forced to do this; the last time, on September 3 vs. the Pirates, resuming the game in a driving rain cost the Cubs the game when Derrek Lee hit a grand slam. That isn't even the point, though -- the point is doing something that makes some common sense, in other words, calling an official game before nine innings if conditions are too bad to play in.
Which they were today. If MLB wants everyone to play nine innings regardless, just say so. In some cases, it's not worth it.