Looking at weather radars late yesterday afternoon, I wouldn't have given real good odds that the game would have been played at all -- the Chicago area seemed surrounded by thunderstorms and more were heading north from downstate.
But the area got just enough of a break from the weather -- it was mostly dry from about 5:00 until a downpour hit just before 9:00 -- for the Cubs and Pirates to get an official five innings in before the umpires finally called everyone off the field with a 1-2 count on ex-Cub Craig Monroe in the top of the sixth. Result: a 6-1 rain-shortened Cubs win over the Pirates, the second game of the year that went into the books with fewer than nine innings played, and the eight-game losing streak is history. The Cubs returned to the .500 mark and with the Cardinals' 8-1 win over the Brewers, crept back to four games out of first place (three in the loss column).
With only five innings played, both Sean Marshall and Ian Snell, the game's starting pitchers, get credit for complete games; Marshall threw perhaps his best game of the year, allowing only four hits (all singles), striking out six, and making two slick defensive plays -- catching a line drive and also snagging a sharply hit grounder up the middle for an easy 1-3 putout.
Meanwhile, the Cubs offense continued its awakening from the dismal road trip; Kosuke Fukudome hit his first home run in a month. Micah Hoffpauir drove in a pair of runs with a double, and Marshall, who has turned himself into a pretty good hitter (3-for-12 this year with two RBI), singled in a run. The club also resumed its patient ways, walking four times in only five innings of batting.
How baseball has changed: I remember a game day around this time of year in 1978, when a game was called at 10 am because of the mere threat of rain. Of course, that was in the days where the average attendance was about 18,000 and the average ticket price was about $5 (yes, seriously, $5 -- even box seats weren't that pricey), so the team's financial exposure wasn't that high for a postponement. Today, with the price of an average ticket approaching $50 and virtually every game a sellout, a rainout could cost the Cubs somewhere in the range of $1.5 million to $1.8 million -- or, to put it in another way, about the cost of Aaron Heilman's salary for 2009. In addition, there are other pressures, such as tight schedules with no scheduled doubleheaders (and no, I'm not arguing in favor of that -- there's no way the owners are giving up the revenue to give two games for the price of one, not to mention the fact that you can't get a regular DH finished in less than seven hours these days) and the rule requiring a day off at least every 20 days.
That's why we see games like last night's, played in part in very difficult conditions -- the last inning was played in a pretty hard downpour and you could just imagine fielders saying to themselves, "Please don't hit me a popup!" -- pushed to at least be official games. A little more than half of the listed paid crowd, 38,303, actually showed up to brave the rain and almost all of us, myself included, ducked out when the delay was called just before 9:00. After an hour and six minutes, the result was made official at 10:05. Strangely enough, at the 7:05 scheduled game time, it was not raining -- though it had much of the time when batting practice normally would have been held -- the field was uncovered, and pitchers had warmed up, but no one, not even the umpires, had appeared. Finally, about 7:10 the umpires came out of the dugout -- one of the few times you'll ever see umpires applauded -- and the first pitch was thrown at 7:12.
The Cubs will take them, these days, any way they can. The offense seems to have awakened and if the pitching can settle back into the groove it had even during the road trip portion of the losing streak, things can turn around quickly. The two teams will try again this afternoon, weather permitting:
Today: Today: Showers likely, with thunderstorms also possible after 1pm. Patchy fog before 1pm. Otherwise, cloudy, with a high near 69. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Notes: sources tell me, despite me and some others wanting the Cubs to go after Mark DeRosa, the Cubs will not seek his return, nor are they at this time looking for help outside the organization; and, further, there are no immediate plans to call up Jake Fox. If the team keeps hitting the way they have the last two games, a turnaround could come as quickly as the losing streak did.