Baseball did it again tonight.
The feeling is almost inescapable that the sport is being punished.
At 7:28 this evening, National League President Chub Feeney, after waiting through a 3-hour 23-minute rain delay, postponed the fifth game of the league championship series between Los Angeles and Montreal until Monday at 1 p.m. (WRC-TV-4).
At 7:33 tonight, as many of the nearly 30,000 fans who had waited nearly 3 1/2 hours trudged to the subway, the rain stopped and did not resume.
The evening in Olympic Stadium was, thereafter, balmy with the temperature 50 degrees and no wind. It was jacket-and-no-coat weather, perfect for a winner-take-all showdown in television's Sunday prime time.
Instead, the Dodgers and Expos left the park muttering to themselves and looking forward to an ominous Monday forecast. A cold front is fast approaching with high winds and snow predicted; temperatures are expected to drop drastically all day Monday with 40 degrees predicted for game time, but falling into the low 30s by game's end. Winds are forecast from 20 to 35 mph and a chance of snow flurries in the city.
In other words, by the late innings, when the National League pennant is decided, the chances are good that the wind-chill factor will be near zero with snow falling.
The ironies surrounding the rainout were startling.
Had the game been scheduled for a traditional baseball hour -- either 1 or 8 p.m. -- it probably would have been played to conclusion.
Rain did not start here until almost precisely game time of 4:05. In fact, both pitchers, Fernando Valenzuela of Los Angeles and Ray Burris of Montreal, had begun the early stages of their warmups when the steady drizzle began. Both pitchers are still scheduled to start Monday.
The only starting time that would have produced a cancellation was 4 p.m. And why was such a time chosen?
"We could have played at 1 (p.m.) and we'd have gotten the game in," said Feeney. "We started at 4 because the networks wanted to lead in with a (NFL) football game for better ratings."
"We were willing to wait another 90 minutes tonight, at least," said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda. "You want to get a game like this in."
"We'd have been glad to wait that long, too," said Expo Manager Jim Fanning.
Why, after waiting so long, was the game called at exactly the time that Montreal weather forecasters said that the rain would end?
"You'll have to ask the National League president that," said Lasorda.
Feeney explained that "we talked to the weather people until they were sick of hearing us. Initially, they said that the rain would stop at 5:15, then 6, then 6:30, then 7:15.
"We'd have kept waiting even longer if we thought the rain would stop," said Feeney, minutes after the game, not knowing that the rain had stopped. "Finally, we just couldn't wait any longer."
Feeney's account of his weatherman connection and the recollections of the other man on the telephone line, Freddie Aronson of the Montreal Weather Information Office, are rather different.
Aronson was contacted by a Washington Post reporter at 4:30 p.m. He gave a forecast that was essentially correct, saying that the rain would end between 6:30 and 7:30 and that the game definitely could be played if league officials would be patient.
"At first, I told Feeney that the rain would stop at 7:15," recalled Aronson, "then I called him back to say other things were developing . . . They definitely could have played tonight."
If Monday's weather is as bad as promised, another postponement is possible.
"If we have to play on Tuesday, it'll be at 1 p.m. and the World Series (now scheduled to start Tuesday night) will be moved back a day," said Feeney.
When Montreal was granted a franchise, one of the basic understandings was that the city had plans for a new, domed stadium in time for the Olympics. "We assumed there'd be a roof. It was supposed to be in by '76," said Feeney.
But, there is no roof. And, there may never be one.
Olympic Stadium has already cost Quebec $600 million with enormous cost overruns and legendary government scandals. The membrane for the fancy, first-ever retractable dome is, at this very moment, in a warehouse in Le Havre, France. Under a nine-option superplan currently under study here, one of the options is no dome ever.
A sidelight of this evening's bad-luck-for-Feeney fiasco was that, in 1977's fifth and final NL championship series game in Philadelphia, Feeney allowed the Dodgers and Phils to play in a steady drizzle, much like tonight's, which prompted enormous criticism of the NL president. Tonight, he wasn't going to risk a repeat.
"That '77 game showed how ridiculous it was to have a whole season come down to one game played in awful conditions," said Ron Cey, Dodger third baseman.
As for the conventional baseball variables and how they are affected by this one-day delay, the consensus is simple. Both Valenzuela and Burris are normally five-day-rotation pitchers and, therefore, will be delighted with the extra day's rest, particularly Valenzuela, who would have had to pitch on three days' rest for the third consecutive start, something he had never been forced to try. Now, he's back on his normal fifth-day schedule.
Also, both Lasorda and Fanning said that whichever NL team reaches the World Series will be at a disadvantage because it won't have had Monday off to rest its pitching staff.
Baseball's concern now, however, is when these Canadian playoffs will end, so the Series can begin.
At 10 o'clock tonight, Olympic Stadium was still a glorious, dry, almost warm place. But that cold front from Ottawa is coming fast.
Baseball will need good luck, one day hence, if its NL championship game is to be remembered as something other than a farce.
If the sport's fortunes, and judgment, stay as snake-bitten as they were this evening, then Freddie the Weatherman will probably be right: this will be baseball's Blue Monday.
Frozen blue, that is.
WTOP Radio in Washington announced tonight that it will not broadcast Monday's game.