- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

The Washington Nationals’ makeup game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night, rescheduled from May 3, had the feeling of a long night from the time Collin Balester threw his first pitch. Everything that followed just prolonged it.

Washington lost 4-1 in a rain-shortened, six-inning game, but the Nationals had to wait through 2:46 of rain delays to finalize the loss. The one-game series, a makeup scheduled a day before the start of the Cardinals’ three-game series in Philadelphia, became a filibuster of a baseball game that only postponed the outcome the Nationals guaranteed for themselves in the first few innings.

Balester’s first major league outing of the year, truncated by the rain delay that first hit in the top of the fourth inning, might not have lasted much longer if the skies had stayed shut. He needed 54 pitches to get a batter into the fourth inning, struggling to keep the Cardinals from establishing scoring threats early in innings.

“I don’t want to say it’s a downer,” Balester said. “I just have to work hard for the next one. Everything was good tonight. I had good command of my fastball, curveball and change-up.”

The first inning started with a double from Skip Schumaker to left field - which turned into a run with the help of a curious play on the next at-bat.

Colby Rasmus hit an easy fly ball to Adam Dunn, which the left fielder caught. But as he was taking the ball out of his glove, Dunn bobbled it, allowing Schumaker to advance to third. Replays showed, however, that Schumaker never tagged up at second - he was loitering off the base expecting to retreat once the ball was caught.

“I don’t think Schumaker was going to go,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I think if Adam kept control of the ball, he might have bluffed a little bit, but I don’t think he would’ve gone. Once he dropped the ball, he went ahead and went over.”

But Dunn’s bobble set off a brief moment of chaos, and Schumaker advanced to third without ever tagging up. The Nationals didn’t appeal the play, and Schumaker scored on Mark DeRosa’s groundout one batter later.

The one run-lead became two on Rick Ankiel’s homer off Balester in the second. Balester walked Ryan Ludwick, and then the rains came, ending his night in the fourth inning.

Once the game resumed in the hands of Tyler Clippard, the lead stretched to three, then four. Clippard’s stretch of stellar relief work over the last week dissolved into a stretch of hits and walks through the fourth inning, allowing Balester’s inherited run to score and another one of his own.

The Nationals scored a run in the sixth on a pair of doubles from Adam Dunn and Alberto Gonzalez, pulling within three. But then the rains came again, delaying the game for another hour-and-a-half until, after a prolonged game of chicken between the grounds crew, the umpires and the storm system, the game was called off after six innings.

The Nationals’ grounds crew pulled the tarp off the infield near the end of a second rain delay with plans to start the game at 11:25. But more rain came as they pulled the tarp off, further soaking the field and forcing umpire Dana DeMuth to call the game at 11:41.

“[The last storm] didn’t even show on [radar],” DeMuth said. “We pulled the tarp, and there was no rain when we pulled the tarp, and that little bit of rain that showed on the radar, we didn’t know whether it would hit or not. So we pulled the tarp to work on the field, and then when it came, it wasn’t supposed to be there more than four or five minutes, and it ended up being a 12-minute downpour. Then getting the tarp on was getting the tarp on too late.”

On a long, wet and frustrating night for the Nationals, even the way it ended wasn’t without a headache.

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