Since I don’t raise corn or soybeans I hate summer rain. Baseball and rain together are a failed chemical compound and it drives me nuts when I drive a long distance for a game and end up with a rainout or a rain delay. Monday, the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies were able to dance between the raindrops and for once defeat the ominous reports of weather forecasters in Cincinnati.
Rain did play a role in the game, a 4-2 victory by the Phillies. The sky was slate gray and clouds seemed to be moving as fast as Johnny Cueto‘s fastball before game time. It rained some, stopped, rained again, and stopped. So the afternoon game did go off on time. Then smack in the middle of the game the weather changed again and if I had been near a Las Vegas sports book I would have emptied the piggy bank betting on an impending rain delay.
I was not alone. Reds manager Dusty Baker was thinking that way, too, and so was Cueto, Cincinnati’s ace, who was going after his 18th victory of the season. They even thought the game might be called early–to their advantage.
This was the situation when rain began falling: There were two outs in the Phillies’ half of the fifth inning, Reds leading 1-0 on a solo homer by outfielder Jay Bruce. Since Cincinnati was ahead, all Cueto had to do was get the last out to make it an official game in case the rain came down so hard play was halted. It was not pouring yet, but it was raining hard enough that fans in the box seats were scampering for cover or putting up umbrellas and the grounds crew had to make a trip onto the field.
Umpires called a brief time out so fresh dirt could be poured out of bags and raked over to ensure better footing on the mound and in the batter’s box. Then we went back to baseball. Only Cueto, who is a contender for the National League Cy Young Award, suddenly lost his edge. Steven Lerud, a Phillies’ player who was batting .200, singled. Rookie pitcher Tyler Cloyd, on his way to his first Major League win, singled for his first Major League hit. Then at the top of the order, shortstop Jimmy Rollins cracked a three-run homer to left-field.
New ballgame and there was no longer any urgency from the Reds’ perspective to get things over with before a rainout. Wouldn’t you know it, but almost immediately after Rollins’ blow the rain let up and never again truly threatened the contest, anyway, until the ninth.
These days Major League baseball officials study weather maps and satellites the way they have always studied pitch charts. Baker said going into the game he was told, “it was going to be light rain and we would be able to play through it.” That assessment turned out to be right on.
I have had my share of rain aggravation in the past. Over one stretch of time in the mid-1990s when I lived in Alaska I vacationed in my hometown of Boston each summer. Friends or family purchased Red Sox tickets for my one game a year, and believe it or not, I got rained out three years in a row. I became such a jinx no one wanted to go with me anymore. During my Alaska days I also flew to Seattle regularly for Mariners games. Because the Mariners played in the Kingdome before Safeco Field opened, I always knew I was safe from rainouts. I was probably the only fan who liked baseball in the Kingdome.
These days I take my chances on trips to Cincinnati just like anyone else. Baker probably has Weather Channel guru Jim Cantore on speed dial, but I get no more sophisticated than looking at the clouds or reading the newspaper. Three seasons into following the Reds I have lost only one game to a rainout. But Monday seemed perilously close.
Cueto said the rain did make the mound slick before it was reinforced with new dirt, so it did affect him.
“It was slippery when it was raining,” Cueto said, “but that’s no excuse.”
From the moment the players awoke they were aware of rainout prospects, but also said you can’t prepare for a game based on hypotheticals.
“We’re professionals,” said Reds shortstop Zack Cozart. “You gotta be ready to play no matter what.”
The weather never did reach downpour status. There was no thunder and lightning.
“It was one of those annoying rains,” Cozart said.
The weather did hold down the crowd at the Great American Ball Park, limiting a potential 36,000-person day to 22,487 people who did not trust the sky. Those fans who stayed home would have got wet, but they would have squeezed in a whole baseball game, too.