There have been times in recent days when it has looked like the Phillies’ season was stuck in the mud. So the unexpected, and probably avoidable, events of Monday night served as an apt metaphor for what has happened to the team lately.
The Phillies' scheduled game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park was postponed because of poor field conditions. The grounds crew worked feverishly for several hours – even using blowtorches in an effort to dry the soggy infield dirt – before the decision to postpone was made about 7:15 p.m.
The two teams will play a traditional doubleheader Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. Monday’s scheduled starter Jake Arrieta will get the ball in one of the games and Nick Pivetta in the other. The Phillies, who entered Monday trailing Atlanta by 4½ games in the NL East, are coming off a 2-4 road trip to Miami and New York and they are 6-14 since August 18.
The decision to postpone was made by the umpires in conjunction with Major League Baseball. Players on both sides agreed with the decision. Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said the infield dirt was like “pudding” or “cake batter.” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who was on the field with the umpires and Phillies officials before the decision was made, also agreed with it.
“The conversations on the field were very good,” Rizzo said. “It was all about player safety and the integrity of the field. The field was soft. We didn't want anybody getting hurt on the Phillies or the Nationals. It was deemed too big a risk to put the players in.”
Max Scherzer and Rhys Hoskins, the union reps on both sides, were on the field before the decision was made.
“The dirt, it was spongy, it would literally give out,” Scherzer said. “And that was just us acting like we were going to run. The moment you put any weight on the ball of your foot, the dirt would just give out. There were parts of the infield they said could get better and when we tested those areas we both looked at each other and thought, ‘This is going to get torn up when guys are going 100 percent,' and you can't have any one spot out there because that's how you get injured. We've seen that in the past.”
Late in the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos, then with the Nationals, suffered a serious knee injury on a wet field. He played in just 64 games the next season. Ramos is now with the Phillies.
“Ramos, two years ago, blew out his ACL,” Scherzer said. “There isn't a player in here that can hold themselves accountable if something like that happened."
Hoskins agreed. The risk was too great.
“We didn't feel safe as players,” he said. “I think a big thing was we didn't want people compensating for what the surface was and potentially having an injury that way.”
It is not unusual to have a rainout. It is unusual to have a “mud out.” According to baseball researcher Dave Smith of Retrosheet, this was the first game postponed because of wet grounds since a game at Milwaukee on Sept. 21, 1987.
So what happened?
According to Howard Smith, the Phillies vice president of business affairs, the field was not covered during Friday night’s heavy rainstorm and no drying occurred during a wet weekend.
“The field wasn’t tarped on Friday night because we were supposed to get only a small amount of rain,” Smith said. “If you tarp the field 24 hours a day, the field will turn brown and it will die. It’s an on-and-off situation. We didn’t tarp it Friday night. In retrospect, had I known it was going to be this much rain, we would’ve tarped it. We had it covered the rest of the weekend, but the damage was done and we’re just playing catch up. The rain this morning didn’t help us because we weren’t able to deal with it.”
The Phillies had spent the previous week on the road. Players began arriving at Citizens Bank Park early Monday afternoon. They weren’t there long when word started circulating the game could be in jeopardy. A couple of players were incredulous that the field was in such poor shape.
Two hours after the game was postponed, more than 20 members of the grounds crew continued to work on drying out the infield dirt. They used rakes, drying agent and blowtorches. At some point, the field was to be covered, but here’s the hitch: Tuesday’s forecast is not good. The Phillies have 20 games to play, 20 games to catch the Braves, and the calendar is shrinking.