Bryce Harper appropriately, and humorously, dubbed the sun that settles high above Nationals Park and blinds outfielders when fly balls are in the air the Sun Monster. St. Louis has its own version: perhaps the Shadow Monster?
The Nationals and Cardinals are scheduled to play afternoon games in Games 1 and 2 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium, a place where bright sun and the shadows cast onto the field by the stadium are known to play a factor. (The New York Yankees, if you notice, and the wild card winner, the Baltimore Orioles, were given the night television slots for games at Camden Yards on Sunday and Monday.)
Last fall, then-Cardinals sluggers Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, currently injured, spoke out often about the effect of the shadows at Busch Stadium. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Berkman called the conditions last September a “farce” and suggested that the Major League Players Association make afternoon games an issue during the next labor negotiations.
After a September 3:15 p.m. game last season, Matt Holliday said: “If you’re not ahead in the third inning, if the hitters can’t see the ball, it makes for a noncompetitive game once the shadows set in.” Following a 4 p.m. Game 3 of last season’s NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies, Berkman was critical of the conditions, where even though much of the field is in the shade, the sun in the outfield clouds the batters’ eyes in the background and makes picking up pitches and rotation of the ball difficult.
At Nationals Park, both teams will have to contend with an autumn sun that makes high fly balls in the outfield a gamble. Jayson Werth and Nationals Manager Davey Johnson both suggested the only way to deal with the conditions was to cover the sun up with the glove and nab the ball at the last minute. Werth, a veteran outfielder, even struggled with the conditions, saying two weeks ago it “borders on ridiculous.”
The sun, however, wasn’t as much of a factor when batting. At Busch Stadium, players most often complain about the difficulty hitting given the sun and the shadows. So it appears, the Nationals will have another sun-related issue to contend with beginning on Sunday. And when they return to Washington, so will the Cardinals.