NEW YORK — The game-time forecast in the Bronx on Friday night from the weather service to which Major League Baseball subscribes called for short periods of rain that would be “light in nature.” And so league officials gave the green light to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series on time at 8:37 p.m., confident that the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers could send their respective aces to the mound without worrying they might be used up in a rain-aborted game.
But by 9 p.m., it was pouring at Yankee Stadium, the dirt on the mound and around home plate turning into a soupy mess, and at 9:07 p.m., as the Yankees prepared to bat in the bottom of the second inning in a 1-1 game, play was halted. By 10:22 p.m., with the radar showing bands of heavy rain lasting until deep into the night, the game was officially suspended.
And so the same head-slapping, schedule-wrecking, groundskeeper-cursing phenomenon that plagued the regular season — this year, MLB recorded its most rainouts since 1997 — has already played havoc with the postseason on Day One.
“We’ve been through this all year long,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “You cannot fight Mother Nature.”
The schedule for the weekend is the easy part: Game 1 will be resumed at 8:37 p.m. Saturday from the point at which it stopped — a rule change that went into effect two years ago (in the regular season, the teams would merely start over) — with Game 2 pushed back to Sunday afternoon, previously scheduled as a travel day. Games 3 and 4 will be Monday and Tuesday in Detroit, as scheduled.
But the implications for the teams’ respective pitching staffs were many, beginning with the fact the two aces who began the game — New York’s CC Sabathia and Detroit’s Justin Verlander — are now unavailable for at least one day apiece after throwing 27 and 25 pitches, respectively. The disappointing reality for fans, television executives and the teams themselves is that Sabathia and Verlander are likely to be limited to one full start apiece in the series, as opposed to two.
“I do feel bad for the national audience,” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said. “Certainly, it was a marquee matchup. That’s a little sad, but that’s just the way it is.”
Instead of Sabathia and Verlander — who both stayed warm during the delay, in hopes of pitching after the resumption of play — Game 1 will feature Ivan Nova and Doug Fister when play resumes Saturday. New York’s Freddy Garcia and Detroit’s Max Scherzer, the projected Game 3 starters, are now expected to start Sunday in Game 2 — although Sabathia said he might lobby Girardi to get the ball on Sunday, which would keep him in line to start a possible Game 5.
“I want the ball as much as possible,” Sabathia said.
“I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” said Girardi about the possibility of Sabathia on Sunday. “You’re asking an awful lot.”
The Yankees had been hoping to get through the ALDS with just three starters, but because of the sudden loss of a day off are now likely to need four — which means A.J. Burnett, whose poor performance got him exiled to the Yankees’ bullpen, might get a start (in Game 4) out of necessity.
The degree to which MLB officials were caught off guard by the rain was unprecedented in recent memory. For both competitive and marketing reasons, the last thing the league wanted was for the teams to burn up their aces for a matter of days for what amounts to barely half an hour of baseball.
“We certainly were not going to start a game if we had a forecast of heavy rain,” said Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager and now MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations. “Whether it was CC and Justin, or two other guys — it certainly isn’t fair to either club.”
At one point, about 30 minutes into the delay, the rain lightened and the grounds crew removed the tarp and began preparing the field for a resumption — only to have to scramble to reapply the tarp when the rain turned torrential again. Anyone in the stadium at that point might have justifiably wondered if anyone in MLB was looking at a radar. (League officials declined to reveal which weather service they subscribe to.)
Said Torre, “Never in my wildest dreams [did we] think we were going to run into this tonight.”
The weather forecast for Saturday, meanwhile, calls for more rain, and Girardi raised the possibility of a day-night doubleheader on Sunday in the event of another lost day — an unprecedented step that league officials later shot down.
Or perhaps, if MLB is expecting rain Saturday, that must mean it will be sunny and dry.