Late Saturday afternoon, Manager Davey Johnson knew the Washington Nationals may be in for a long night. The weather radar he looked at showed steady rain stretching from Atlanta through the mid-Atlantic. Stephen Strasburg, the ace so often cursed with soggy weather, was scheduled to pitch. “I’d like to call it early and play a doubleheader,” he said. “It’s easier on everybody. That said, we’ll probably be here until 1.”
Johnson got the doubleheader he wanted, but not until the Nationals and Miami Marlins waited out the rain at Nationals Park until a few minutes shy of 11 p.m., almost four hours after the scheduled first pitch, before the postponement came. The Nationals will finish their 2013 home schedule with a Sunday split doubleheader, with Game 1 starting at 1:35 p.m. and Game 2 coming at 7:05 p.m. Both games will be televised on MASN.
This late in the season, Johnson said, the protocol for rain delays is different than during most of the year. The home team typically controls when and whether a game will start. In the final week, though, Major League Baseball and the umpiring crew assume the responsibility. Saturday, MLB was in control of the start, not the Nationals.
“It is what it is,” Johnson said. “This time of year, you’re to get them all in. A lot of clubs finish games at 2:30 [a.m.]. We just got a little team bonding.”
Strasburg, whose start had been pushed back twice for a total of seven days because of right forearm stiffness, will start Game 2 against Brian Flynn. Dan Haren will start Game 1 against Tom Koehler. The Nationals flipped their starters because Haren left during the delay, ensuring he would get a full night’s rest.
The Marlins first announced the postponement on Twitter at 10:51 p.m., 3 hours and 46 minutes after pitch. The Nationals Park scoreboard alerted fans the game had been called at 11:13 p.m.
Johnson would have preferred the game to be called in the late afternoon or early evening rather than waiting out the rain. The league, Johnson said, believed the weather would clear at 11 p.m. Sure enough, by 11:30 p.m. the tarp had been removed from the infield and the rain had stopped.
But as the night wore, the radar showed a second storm cell coming behind that first rain clouds. The league considered starting the game with the chance for a second rain delay. Johnson objected, not wanting both teams to lose starting pitchers in the event of the second delay.
“That’s ridiculous,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t want to have that happen to anybody.”
By midnight, the rain had returned.
MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday night.
Fans who had a ticket to Saturday night’s game now hold tickets for Game 2 Sunday. Fans unable to attend that game can redeem their ticket for any game in the Nationals’ 2014 home schedule other than opening day or a “marquee” game.
In the stands, pockets of fans huddled in concourses. Some hardy folks sat in the seats covered by an umbrella. The video board showed the Pirates-Reds game in its entirety — when the Pirates won, the Nationals trailed the Reds by 4 1/2 games in the race for the National League’s second wild card spot.
In the Nationals’ clubhouse, the delay made some players loopy. Bryce Harper tweeted a picture of himself holding a bat, wearing a hard hat and a neon yellow vest, with the caption, “Got the night shift tonight!”