St. Louis Cardinals Beat Washington Nationals, 4-1, in Rain-Shortened Game

Josh Willingham reacts after a strikeout during the Nationals' loss to Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals. Willingham went 0 for 2 with a walk.
Josh Willingham reacts after a strikeout during the Nationals' loss to Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals. Willingham went 0 for 2 with a walk. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

This season, on 16 occasions, rain has interfered with the daily undertakings of the Washington Nationals -- a grim misfortune, if only because the Nationals generally require no assistance when it comes to botching plans. Tough as losing can be, it's worse to wait and lose.

In early June, for instance, in a span of two days, the Nationals came to the stadium, waited almost four hours for a game to be canceled, then returned for a doubleheader the next day that was delayed by rain and cut short by rain. Washington lost both times.

Indeed, even the sky has treated the 2009 Nationals without mercy. All told, counting the latest episode Thursday night, they've waited through 30 hours 31 minutes of rain delays this year. Their 4-1 rain-shortened loss against St. Louis on Thursday at Nationals Park provided the most perverse picture yet of this cycle: The Nationals started playing, commenced the act of losing, paused because of rain, waited for 76 minutes, resumed the act of losing, waited 90 more minutes, and were about to take the field for the final 2 1/2 innings of their 67th loss when the final twist occurred.

Just after the tarp was pulled in an apparent conclusion of rain delay No. 2, the rain came hard. Puddles formed in the infield. You could almost see a rainbow. Though the storm stuck around for just a few minutes, the damage rendered the field unplayable. At 11:30 p.m., as the grounds crew tried to salvage the field with drying agents, umps surveyed the field, consulted with the managers, and decided to terminate the game.

The capper? This game, twice-delayed, was a makeup game.

"We pulled the tarp and there was no rain when we pulled the tarp," crew chief Dana DeMuth said, "and that little bit of rain that showed on the radar, we didn't know whether it would hit or not. So we pulled the tarp to work on the field and then when it came, it wasn't supposed to be there more than four or five minutes and it ended up being a 12-minute downpour. Then getting the tarp on was getting the tarp on too late.

"The whole infield was an inch under water and they put down an inch of dust trying to get it, to sop it up, and that only turned into mud. . . . We lost the field, that's what happened."

Originally, these teams had planned to play on May 3. But that day, they merely waited out a 1-hour 56-minute delay before the game was canceled and rescheduled. As a result, the Cardinals were forced, during their latest road trip, to make a one-day detour to the District, where for opposing baseball teams Mother Nature is sometimes the lone downside. The Cardinals were in Houston on Wednesday, and they'll be in Philadelphia on Friday. But in between, they snapped their three-game losing streak, salvaging the hours of radar-watching.

The announced attendance of 25,359 was about twice as large as the actual attendance, but most of those who passed through the gates stuck around through the first rain delay. But at 10:10 p.m., as Washington trailed 4-1 in the top of the seventh, a second cell of rain hit Nationals Park with almost no warning.

In a snap, there was biblical rain. A few fans let out audible shrieks, and everybody rushed for cover. Seconds later, umpires signaled the players off the field. When the game resumed, only several hundred remained at the ballyard.

In its truncated form, the game was largely lost by a starting pitcher who had waited quite a while for the opportunity to pitch here. Maybe you remember Collin Balester. He started 15 games for the Nationals in 2008. He was the en vogue 22-year-old prospect. But he pitched with mixed results, struggled through an abysmal spring training, lost ground to another batch of young pitchers, and found himself dispatched to Class AAA Syracuse, where he remained until Jordan Zimmermann's elbow soreness necessitated a call-up.

Balester, the 10th pitcher to start a game for the Nationals this season, unveiled a new windup (with a wraparound leg kick) but still committed a few too many mistakes.

Skip Schumaker's leadoff double in the first turned into an unearned run when Adam Dunn, catching a flyout to left, fumbled the ball when trying to throw. Schumaker took third on the error, and gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead when No. 3 hitter Mark DeRosa, starting in place of the resting Albert Pujols, hit a soft infield groundout.

St. Louis expanded its lead in the second in simpler fashion. Balester fell behind Rick Ankiel 2-1. He threw a fat fastball. Ankiel dispatched it into the right field seats.

From that point on, the rain and the St. Louis pitching took hold. While Adam Wainright (six innings, eight hits) controlled the Nationals, scattering eight hits, Washington only let the deficit grow.

"It's strange," Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "I'm from this area, and I've been telling people all year that I don't ever remember being in this area and ever getting rained out of a ballgame. In high school, college, summer leagues -- you just didn't get that much rain. So it's very out of the ordinary to go through this. Whether it's out of the ordinary or not? If we were winning these games, it'd be lucky."

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