The Orioles and Nationals don’t play again this season, and while the schedule forever will show that Baltimore won the two games at Camden Yards and Washington took the two games at Nationals Park – a clean split – there is a tiny little backdrop that’s worth boxing up and unpacking when they face each other in 2018.
On the night of May 11, the Orioles had Adam Jones hitting second and playing center field, Manny Machado hitting third and playing third base, and right-hander Dylan Bundy, their best starter this season, on the mound.
The game, though, was postponed because of weather. Yet as the Orioles’ bus pulled out of the parking lot onto South Capitol Street, the sun shone.
So if you think there was something acerbic about Manager Buck Showalter’s pregame comments Thursday – when the makeup game was played – you’re right.
“Lot of byproducts of the cancellation,” Showalter said, noting that Jones (general soreness) and Machado (wrist injury) weren’t in the lineup. Then he craned his neck and looked from under the dugout roof at the bright blue sky, commenting on the weather. “I think it’s marginally better tonight.”
Eye roll implied.
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo remembered the cancellation slightly differently. In a phone call Friday afternoon, he pointed out he has known Showalter since 1998, when both worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“It rained all day that day, and the forecast said it would rain until 9:30 or 10,” Rizzo said. “I sat in Buck’s office at 6:30, and we talked about it for 20 minutes. He was 100-percent on-board. He didn’t say anything about not canceling the game.
“Their GM [Dan Duquette] was nowhere to be found for three, four hours. We wanted to play the next [mutual off] day. They refused to play then, so the next [mutual] day was [Thursday]. They drove 32 miles to get there. We flew 3,000 [expletive] miles, and we beat their [behinds]. So quit your whining. Quit whining.”
The next mutual off day was May 15, when the Orioles were between series in Kansas City and Detroit and the Nationals had finished a home series and were headed to Pittsburgh the following day.
Several Nationals players also were annoyed when the original game was called, because they knew the payback would be playing the makeup game the night after they completed a three-city, 10-day trip to the West Coast.
“Did it rain last night?” one prominent Nat asked back in May, on the day following the postponement. “Nope. Brutal.”
But the Orioles – though they wouldn’t say it publicly – clearly believed the Nationals were trying to tinker with the matchup. Due to face Bundy on May 11 was right-hander A.J. Cole, a 25-year-old who has had middling success as a spot starter for the Nats over the past three seasons.
Playing into the conspiracy theory is the fact that, before the first pitch is thrown, the home team controls whether a game starts on time or is delayed – or is postponed – because of weather. Once the game begins, those decisions are in the hands of the umpiring crew. But … if the Nats didn’t like the pitching matchup, and there’s a common off day upcoming, and the radar shows some rain in the area — well, then, couldn’t they just pull the plug?
The end result might have been disaster for the Nats, given the struggling Joe Ross went to the mound. Instead, the Orioles – coming off back-to-back extra-inning victories over Pittsburgh – struck out 15 times and managed just four hits against Ross and two relievers.
“They’re professionals,” Showalter said afteward. “It’s part of the gig. If you don’t understand it – I know our guys do. That’s why every chance you get to play a game that might get called off, you play it, because you know you pay the piper down the road.”
The Nats and Orioles already have a bit of a tense relationship – at the ownership/management level – stemming from the MASN legal fiasco. So we’ll see if the Nats, somehow, have to pay the piper down the road.