Through its first eight innings, Monday night's Rangers-Yankees game in the Bronx was a sodden and largely forgettable slog through increasingly unplayable conditions. Things took a turn for the surreal with a ninth-inning rain delay that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours before play resumed at 2:15 a.m. in front of a ballpark that had been largely emptied of paying customers, this scribe included.
Had common sense prevailed, the game would have been suspended and then completed prior to the start of Tuesday night's regularly scheduled game, but the MLB rule book itself appears to suspend common sense in such instances. As it was, Texas rallied for four runs ninth-inning runs after play resumed at the ungodly hour, winning 9-6. The outburst was aided by three hit-by-pitches from New York reliever Kirby Yates, who replaced Aroldis Chapman after the delay.
Concerns about rain had led the umpires to delay the games first pitch by 21 minutes, a curious decision given that the tarp wasn't even placed on the field at the time. Ultimately, that decision proved dubious, because the anticipated outburst did not materialize until much later. Had the game begun as scheduled, it's likely that the conditions would have still been playable enough for Chapman to pitch the ninth, but the increasingly heavy drizzle had created slippery conditions despite the best efforts—and a whole lot of drying agent—from the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.
Sprinkles of rain had begun falling before either team's starting pitcher departed. Seated in the front row of upper deck section 422 (behind home plate just off to the third base side), my friend and I were among the numerous fans who decided to head for higher ground during the sixth inning, as the upper rows of those sections are covered by the stadium's roof. When the wind shifting to an angle that brought rain through the frieze hanging down from the roof, we moved even higher before the seventh inning.
Lugging a seemingly endless supply of 50-pound bags of drying agent between every inning, the grounds crew attempted to keep the field playable. With the rain having grown heavier, Chapman entered the game in the top of the ninth with the Yankees ahead 6-5, but he exhibited an atypical lack of control and velocity. He threw nine pitches, just two for strikes, an anomaly given that he had walked just three batters in his first 20 innings this season while striking out 31. What's more, he topped out at 98 mph according to MLB Gameday, the first game all season in which he did not reach triple digits with his fastball. Even at a lower speed, the combination of his fearsome velocity and his lack of control borne from problems gripping the baseball posed a danger to hitters, particularly given that he was missing high above the strike zone.
Chapman began by walking .172-hitting Robinson Chirinos, the Rangers' number nine hitter, on five pitches, after which he used the cleat cleaner at the back of the mound. As the downpour intensified, Chapman went to 3-1 against Shin-Soo Choo before New York manager Joe Girardi came onto the field, leading to a conference on the mound with the umpires and the decision to delay. The grounds crew finally brought out the tarp:
The delay began at 10:40 p.m. Given that it was a Monday night, and that the Yankees have been mediocre this season—they entered with a 37-37 record, having spent just two days above .500 since April 13—that was enough for most fans to call it a night. My friend and I were among the departing throngs; as we reached the 4-train subway platform, at least one message on Twitter from somebody in the Stadium press box said the game had been suspended. That information proved erroneous, and after a delay of three hours and 35 minutes, play finally resumed, but not before a bit of gallows humor was added to the proceedings. Broadcasters and writers found ways to pass the time, while a few fans actually stayed.
When the game started up again, the rain had more or less stopped. Girardi went to Yates, a 29-year-old mopup man who entered with a 4.94 ERA. He struck out Choo (the game log credits him for all pitches thrown during the plate appearance, which is why some box scores show only five pitches for Chapman) but hit Ian Desmond, at which time Chirinos was replaced by pinch-runner Jurickson Profar. Yates then hit Nomar Mazara, allowed a two-runs single to Adrian Beltre that gave the Rangers the lead, then hit Prince Fielder to reload the bases. After retiring Odor on a fly ball, he allowed a two-run single to Elvis Andrus, making the score to 9-6, before striking out Ryan Rua. In the bottom of the inning, facing Texas reliever Sam Dyson, the Yankees put two men aboard but could not capitalize. According to researcher Katie Sharp, it was New York's first defeat in a game in which it took the lead into the ninth inning since June 1, 2014 against the Twins; the Yankees had won 115 straight games under those conditions since then.
The tough luck for the home team was that during the delay, according to Rule 7.02 (b)(4)(A), the umpires could have awarded the Yanks a 6-5 victory based upon the score through eight innings.
(4) Any suspended game that has progressed far enough to become a regulation game, but which has not been completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season shall become a called game, as follows:
(A) If one team is ahead, the team that is ahead shall be declared the winner (unless the game is called while an inning is in progress and before the inning is completed, and the visiting team has scored one or more runs to take the lead, and the home team has not retaken the lead, in which case the score upon the completion of the last full inning shall stand for purposes of this Rule 7.02(b)(4) (Rule 4.12(b)(4)(i))
Via LoHud's Chad Jennings, crew chief Paul Nauert addressed the decision after the game:
"As the inning went on and Chapman had issues gripping the baseball, the mound was actually still in very good shape, but it was brought to our attention that the home plate was still under water, first base was starting to puddle up because it had now taken on a heavy rain with more water, and that was our decision then to stop the game."
Asked whether the game situation, with the tying run on base, affected the decision, Nauert said, "You've got to make it fair for both teams. Our job is to try to get the game in. Just to cut it short for rain is not something that we're doing. We take that integrity part of it very seriously."
Girardi was understandably incensed, saying afterwards, "I asked the umpire to maybe make sure the mound was OK and ask for a fresh rosin bag, I didn’t ask him to stop the game. To me, the game should’ve been stopped earlier than that. We played in horrible conditions and I think we risk injuries to players. You saw a bunch of their outfielders slip. It’s hard for me to understand how we got to this point tonight, but we did and we lost."
Leaving their weather forecasting and evaluation skills aside, Nauert and company were within the rules to delay the game or to call it, but not to suspend it. For a regular season game, their only grounds for suspending play for later resumption would have been if the Rangers had taken the lead, mandating an opportunity for the Yankees to counter. Via a 2008 rule change in the wake of commissioner Bud Selig’s unilateral decision to play Game 5 of the World Series between the Phillies and Rays to completion when it was halted after 5½ innings due to rain, all postseason games that are delayed must eventually be played to completion.
Rule book aside, coming back from a delay with the field in such rough and potentially hazardous conditions makes less sense than resuming the game at a later date, with the field in better shape. In this situation, that goes doubly given the length of the delay, the hour of the night (er, morning) when play resumed, and the clear opportunity to pick up where the game left off the next day. Once upon a time, the American League had a 1 a.m. curfew, after which a new inning could not be started unless the visiting team was making its last visit of the season to the city, which is why most of the longest delays occurred in the NL.
That rule fell by the wayside sometime in the 2000s. In light of Major League Baseball's efforts to protect its players by outlawing collisions at home plate and takeout slides on the basepaths, it’s something commissioner Rob Manfred and the players’ union should consider revisiting. When things get as bad as they were at Yankee Stadium on Monday night, player safety is compromised and the quality of play suffers dramatically. Fans and teams deserve better.