Mother Nature in foul mood Monday
Two rain delays, a tornado warning, and lightning stop game
CHICAGO -- Umpire Wally Bell said his crew did everything it could to finish Monday's game between the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, but Mother Nature rudely intervened.
The game, which the Astros won, 2-0, after the game was called in the bottom of the eighth, was interrupted twice by delays of 2 hours 45 minutes and also 39 minutes, and was a sideshow to the tornado sirens that went off twice, the high intensity lightning, ear-shattering thunderclaps, and heavy rains.
"It was the smart thing to do," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said about calling the game. "You don't want anybody to get struck by lightning and playing in dangerous positions. Tip your caps to the umpires for giving us every opportunity to play through. It came to the point where you couldn't get any more innings in."
The first delay occurred just as Carlos Lee was stepping into the batter's box in the Houston sixth to face Dempster. The Astros had a 2-0 lead after an RBI single by Lee in the first and a bases-loaded walk to Humberto Quintero in the fourth.
The delay started at 7:39 p.m. CT, and the first tornado warning went off at 8:06 p.m. CT, lasting two minutes. Another siren sounded seven minutes later. An announcement was made to the sellout crowd of 40,867 to seek shelter.
Then, the rains came, coupled with winds that gusted up to 45 mph.
"It looked like somebody stood above the stadium with a zip-lock bag full of water and opened it up," Dempster said. "You could barely see right field."
Two fans ran onto the field and slid on the tarp -- including one dressed as Elvis as part of the '70s night festivities -- and both were apprehended. When play finally resumed, the lightning was still flashing in the distance. Once the umpires receive the lineup cards at home plate, the game is in their hands, said Bell, the acting crew chief.
"The rain, it was pretty bad," said Bell, who watched the storm on the radar in a room near the umpires' clubhouse. "We had a chance to get back on the field, and that's our job. This time of year especially, our job is to get the game in, and that's what we tried to do."
The lightning continued as play resumed, but Bell said the reports he had indicated the players were not in danger.
"The lightning, in my opinion, even though it lit up the skies, it was deep and away from the ballpark," Bell said. "I had talked to the groundskeeper several times about the weather and he said there were possible storms coming in. I was concerned about the lightning.
"When that last one hit [with one out in the bottom of the eighth], it was too close, even for us, and I pulled them off," Bell said of a clap that scattered the Astros players off the field. "I would never put any team or player or umpire in harm's way. But that lightning, even though the booms are big, it was deep and didn't affect anything. The last one hit and there was no way I was going to keep them there, and then, of course, the storms hit."
Dempster said former player Chris Reitsma told him about a game in Alberta, Canada, when a youngster was struck and killed by lightning.
"Some scary stuff can happen -- Mother Nature, she's a [tough lady]," Dempster said. "You don't want to mess with her and get on her bad side."
Houston's Lance Berkman was one of the first to dash off the field at the thunder clap in the eighth.
"You've got to get the fans out of there," Berkman said. "We've got to be out of there but if you give those fans a reason to hang around, they will. Tonight was a night they needed to be discouraged from being outside in those kind of conditions."
If play had resumed in the Cubs' eighth, the Astros would have needed another first baseman. Berkman said he wasn't going back on the field.
"If they had continued the game, I wouldn't have gone back out there -- not for a while," Berkman said. "You have to be an idiot to stand outside in a lightning storm. That, to me, is common sense and there's no reason to put anybody in harm's way needlessly."
The game was being televised by ESPN, and Chicago is leading the NL Central and looking to lock up a postseason spot.
"It's the umpire's call," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "We have no control over it once the first pitch starts. If this game might have been April or May, maybe it would have been a different ending earlier. But that's really just a top-notch job by the umpire crew without making a mockery of the game and I'm not saying that just because we were the team losing and wanted to continue if we could.
"If we would have been ahead 2-0, I firmly believe that Wally would have done the same thing, absolutely, because you need to try to play these games out as much as you can," Hendry said. "He did that and was fair and at the same time, when it got bad at the end, no question he got everybody off the field. I don't think any thought was given to waiting it out any longer than he had to make the call. But he handled himself in a first-class manner."
Berkman agreed that the umpires did their job, but wasn't sure the severe weather had cleared enough for play to resume.
"I don't want to put it all on the umpires," he said. "They've got a job to do. They're under pressure from MLB, they want to get these games in. If MLB reviews the situation, and decides they didn't do everything in their power to get a game in, then they could get in trouble.
"I don't really blame the umpires," Berkman said. "I just think a decision probably should have been made collectively during the first delay when you had tornado warnings all over the area, when you've got lightning all over the area, when you've got that kind of severe weather, it makes sense to use any sort of window or lull to let fans get out of here."
Bell felt he was looking out for everyone.
"Our job is to get the games in, and this time of year with the playoffs and teams in contention, we know it's tough," Bell said. "I don't really want to be here at midnight, but that's our job, that's what you do. When the second rain came, it just wasn't going to happen. We talked to everybody and then called the game."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.