It hasn't been a good year for umpires in Major League Baseball. Several blown calls have gotten spates of negative publicity and given the league's men in blue a black eye. Last night saw two inexcusable "judgement calls" add more fuel to the fire. The first happened in the Rangers-Mariners game, and you can read more about it here. The second occurred in last night Braves-Mets game.
Atlanta and New York played last night's game with the specter of rain constantly hanging over them. In fact, the game's start was even delayed a little bit by showers. The rain did let up for a while though, and the game got underway. However, with the game tied 3-3 after 7 innings, the rain began to fall again at Citi Field. The Braves would rally and score two runs in the top of the 8th inning as the rain drizzled down. Certainly an annoyance, but not particularly a hindrance to play.
As the game moved to bottom half of the eighth, the rain picked up. Anthony Varvaro was pitching, and led off the inning walking John Buck. He then struck out Ike Davis and allowed a single to Ruben Tejada. By that point, the rain was really driving. Atlanta's broadcast team of Joe Simpson and Chip Caray noted that it was "coming down in sheets" and that it was only getting heavier. With Jordany Valdespin up to bat, Varvaro quickly got ahead 0-2 on a pair of fastballs. Varvaro tried to go to his offspeed stuff to get a strikeout, but spiked them all in the ground well in front of the plate - none of them were remotely close. As the game progressed, it was apparent that he could not grip his offspeed pitches in such a torrential downpour - almost all of them ended up in the dirt.
But, somehow, the umpires allowed play to continue. Varvaro would strike out Valdespin with his fastball before allowing an RBI single to Daniel Murphy to make it 5-4. On the play, B.J. Upton slipped fielding the ball, allowing Tejada to take third. He would score the tying run three pitches later when another of Varvaro's offspeed offerings bounced away from McCann. Varvaro slipped covering the plate, eliminating any chance the Braves had at getting the runner.
That was at least three plays that were affected by the weather (Upton's error, Varvaro's pitch, Varvaro's slip) and led directly to the Mets tying the game. Naturally, after Varvaro got out of the inning, the umpires immediately called a halt to play.
There is no excuse for waiting so long to call a game. When it becomes apparent that routine baseball plays are being negatively influenced by the weather, there's no reason to continue playing. I'm not saying that the eighth inning definitely would have been different had it been played in dry weather, but doesn't baseball owe it to the players to remove external factors that could potentially give one team an unfair advantage? Furthermore, such conditions pose a greatly increased risk of injury.
I understand what the umpires were trying to do. Given that the Braves had just scored, the game could not be called early without the Mets being allowed a chance to answer. But when the integrity of the game is comprised, the game should be postponed until conditions are better.
Fortunately, Atlanta was able to pick up today and win the suspended game. But imagine if the Mets had scored one more off of Varvaro last night - the game would have been called over right then and there.
Baseball is truly a game of inches. Even in a 162-game season, we routinely see one game being the difference between a team winning their division, winning a wild card, or staying home in October. MLB owes it to players and fans to let all games be decided as fairly as possible. Umpires should not let weather dictate otherwise.