Snow-pening day: Indians, Mariners called after bizarre day

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CLEVELAND (AP)—Swirling snow, lengthy delays, a near no-hitter, a tireless grounds crew and baseball fans bundled up for a football game.

It was a home opener unlike any in the Cleveland Indians’ 107-year history.

And, officially, it never happened.

“A weird day,” Indians starter Paul Byrd said.

A strange night, too.

One strike away from putting their first home game in the books, the Indians had their opener with the Seattle Mariners postponed Friday when daylong snow wouldn’t stop and the playing surface became too dangerous.

The game was finally called after 173 minutes of stoppages, roughly the same amount of time as a regular AL game. This one was anything but normal.

The Indians were leading 4-0 with two outs in the top of the fifth, when the umpires, who pushed back the start by 57 minutes, halted play for the third time.

One hour and 17 minutes later, crew chief Rick Reed called the game at 8:41 p.m.—4 hours and 36 minutes after the scheduled first pitch—ending a bizarre day and night when the Jacobs Field grounds crew, armed with backpack blowers, shovels and brooms to combat the snow, had spent more time on the field than any players.

“I was concerned about the players’ welfare,” Reed said. “Ultimately, it gets down to the players’ safety.”

At one point during the final delay, Reed summoned Indians manager Eric Wedge and Seattle’s Mike Hargrove for a meeting. Earlier, the two managers had a heated on-field discussion.

Reed wanted to give the grounds crew time to clear the field again, but with more snow on the radar and the grass getting more slippery as the temperature dropped, he decided enough was enough.

“I explained that to both managers,” Reed said. “We waited and we evaluated it and it wasn’t safe. All parties went to the wall on this.”

The game was rescheduled for 1:05 p.m. on Saturday as the opener of a day-night doubleheader that will now serve as Cleveland’s opener. The clubs will also play their regularly scheduled game at 7:05 p.m.—weather permitting.

“It’s one of the oddest days most of us have ever been involved with,” Wedge said.

Making his second consecutive home-opening start for Cleveland, Byrd didn’t allow a hit and was perfect through four innings but walked three in the fifth. Still, the right-hander was able to get two outs and was ahead 1-2 in the count to Jose Lopez when Hargrove came out of his dugout.

Known during his playing career as “The Human Rain Delay” because of his slow ritual in the batter’s box, Hargrove complained to plate umpire Alfonso Marquez that Lopez couldn’t see the ball.

“I did not say to call the game,” Hargrove said. “I said, `My hitter can’t see.”’

That brought out Wedge and the two skippers had an animated discussion.

“Eric was arguing it wasn’t fair to his club because they were one strike away from an official game,” Hargrove said. “I said I understood that, but it was no more fair to us if we can’t see the pitch.”

While this was going on, Byrd tried to stay loose by throwing pitches as the snow intensified and the visibility worsened. Finally, Reed brought the Indians off the field.

“Both had legitimate gripes,” Reed said. “Was the snow heavier at that point than at any other in the game? It was close. As we were having our discussion, which I think was fairly lengthy, we were all covered with snow.”

Byrd was upset that Hargrove chose to wait until his hitter was behind before making an issue.

“The snow was coming for five minutes,” Byrd said. “If the count’s 3-0, nobody is saying anything. They tried to get away with something, and it worked. Nobody was saying anything when I wasn’t throwing strikes. I thought it was handled poorly.”

Hargrove claimed he wasn’t do anything but protecting his players.

Moments after the Hargrove-Wedge standoff, near whiteout conditions enveloped the Jake, leading to the day’s longest delay which Reed ended by walking onto the field and waving the game off.

Reed said he took several factors into his decision, including Indians catcher Victor Martinez getting hurt in the third inning and that this is the Mariners’ only visit to Cleveland.

“There’s a lot of things that go through your mind,” Reed said. “You want to give the home team a chance on opening day to enjoy themselves and you have a full park. We owe it to baseball to get the integrity of the game and try and play nine innings if we can. That was our stated goal.”

In the hours leading up to the start, snow fell delicately, blew sideways and generally swirled around the Jake, turning the 43,000-seat ballpark into the world’s largest snow globe.

Notes

C.C. Sabathia will start for Cleveland in Saturday’s opener against Seattle’s Jeff Weaver. In the night game, Felix Hernandez will start for the Mariners, but the Indians hadn’t decided who would pitch for them. … During the 39-minute delay in the second inning, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was played over the stadium’s sound system. Also, a fan ran onto the field and left a snow angel in right-center before being arrested. … The postponement wiped out three errors by Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre.

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