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Nationals’ rain-delay incompetence suspends game until Friday; O’s lead 5-2 in sixth

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The Orioles were 12 outs from a sweep until the Nats ground crew turned a light shower into an unplayable field, and shenanigans ensued. We’ll have to wait five days to see how it ends.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals
Yes, they ARE rolling the tarp the wrong way, why do you ask?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I’ve got to say — that’s a first for me.

I’ve seen a lot of unique things in my years of baseball watching. I was in the Memorial Stadium stands when a guy threw a no-hitter against the Orioles in his second major league start. I was in the Camden Yards press box when the Orioles played a fanless game in 2015, back before fanless games became an everyday thing. I was also there for the Birds’ infamous 30-3 humiliation. I watched from afar as an O’s position player got a win as a pitcher and another got a save. I felt like I’ve seen every possible baseball occurrence, either at the ballpark or on TV. Until today.

Never before had I seen a grounds crew so horribly butcher the unrolling of a tarp — for the briefest of rain showers, no less — that they rendered the field unplayable and forced a game to be suspended.

I’ll add that to my list, I guess. Yay?

The madness occurred in the top of the sixth inning at Nationals Park, where the O’s held a 5-2 lead with two aboard and one out. A passing shower swept through the field, and the umps called for the tarp. Pretty standard stuff so far.

And then...this happened.

Something tells me that’s not how they teach it in Tarp Unrolling 101.

What a debacle. I’m sure being a grounds crew member isn’t easy, and I don’t want to toss out the “you had one job” trope, but...seriously, guys. You had one job.

The MASN broadcast kept its cameras on the unfurling disaster for a good long time, as commentators Scott Garceau and Ben McDonald simultaneously cringed and quipped about the travesty in front of them. Even after the station had tuned to alternative programming, the grounds crew still hadn’t figured it out.

Ultimately, they never did succeed at getting the tarp on the field. They simply waited for the rain to stop, which it did after about 20 minutes. But by then, the field was a gooey, unplayable swamp. After nearly two hours of trying to salvage it, the umpires deemed the effort fruitless and halted the game.

Now you’re thinking, “Ah, well, at least it was an official game, so that’s a win for the Orioles, right?”

Yeah, um, not so much.

Thanks to Rule 7.02(a) of the official MLB rulebook, a game is merely suspended — not postponed — because of “malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club,” which includes “a tarpaulin.”

So, to clarify — even though the Nationals’ own grounds crew and/or tarp were at fault, they’ll get to play out the rest of the game and still have a chance to win. Let’s just say that would not sit well with me if I were the Orioles.

MLB announced that the game will pick up where it left off on Friday at Camden Yards, prior to the originally scheduled game between the Orioles and Nationals. The Nats will be the home team in the resumed game.

So let’s recap where we were before the rain shenanigans.

The Orioles’ starter for this game was Asher Wojciechowski, working on just three days’ rest, and he was out of sorts all afternoon, prompting an early exit. His only clean inning was the first, when he handily retired all three batters he faced, striking out two.

But starting in the second inning, his outing was a real slog. Juan Soto led off with a double and Asdrubal Cabrera singled. Wojciechowski, though, pulled a Houdini act to escape the first-and-third, no-out jam. He fanned Eric Thames and retired Carter Kieboom on a shallow fly. After a walk loaded the bases, Wojciechowski came dangerously close to walking in a run, falling behind Michael A. Taylor 3-1 before recovering to induce a long flyout to center. He threw 27 pitches that inning.

A Trea Turner leadoff single in the third was erased on a double play, but when the Nationals threatened again in the fourth — with Wojciechowski putting two aboard on a walk and hit batsman — Brandon Hyde had seen enough. He pulled the erratic righty with two outs, and Travis Lakins Sr. stranded the runners on a flyout. That preserved the zero in the runs column for Wojciechowski, who threw 65 pitches and allowed six baserunners in 3.2 innings.

On the other side of the mound, Stephen Strasburg made his season debut for the Nationals, returning from an IL stint with a nerve issue in his hand. For the first four innings, he looked like vintage Strasburg. He allowed only two hits — both of them infield singles — while notching a couple of strikeouts and getting a lot of weak contact.

In the fifth, though, it was as if a switch flipped. Suddenly Strasburg couldn’t buy an out, even when he got ahead of hitters. With one out, Austin Hays roped a single to right on an 0-2 pitch. Chance Sisco jumped on the next pitch and pulled a single to right of his own. Strasburg wanted no part of Pat Valaika for some reason, walking him on four pitches to load the bases, and Bryan Holaday — making his first start as an Oriole — skillfully swatted a 1-2 pitch the opposite way for another single, plating Hays for the game’s first run.

Life didn’t get any easier for Strasburg once the lineup turned over. Hanser Alberto laced a double down the left-field line, cashing in two more runs, and Anthony Santander ripped a single to left to bring home another pair. Almost in the blink of an eye, the O’s had put six straight batters on base, tallied five runs on the scoreboard, and chased Strasburg from the game. This Birds offense is...actually kind of impressive!

In the bottom of the fifth, the Nats got on the board with a Starlin Castro two-run homer off Shawn Armstrong, but the Birds were threatening to extend their lead in the sixth until...well, you know.

That’s where we’ll pick things up on Friday. See you then!