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LOUIS -- A storm front came roaring through downtown on Wednesday replete with thunder, lightning, a tornado warning and torrential rain that cascaded off the dark, green metal roof of Busch Stadium in sheets toward the empty red seats below.
The epic storm had been anticipated for hours. And when it struck with a jolt during the bottom of the seventh inning with two out, a run in and runners on first and second, the rain delay was also epic -- three hours, 28 minutes.
"We all knew it was coming, and Major League Baseball officials were doing their best to keep us informed," said Bill De Witt, the Cardinals' longtime chairman of the board. "We knew there was another front coming, and the last thing anybody wanted was to have to stop the game again and put the tarp back on the field."
When the game resumed, Giants reliever Javier Lopez replaced starter Matt Cain and Jon Jay bounced out to first, ending one of the longest half innings in postseason history. From there, the Cards held on to defeat the Giants, 3-1, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. St. Louis holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is slated for Thursday at 8 p.m. ET (FOX), when the weather is projected to be partly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain and 54 degrees at first pitch.
The long delay was better than the alternative. According to baseball rules, any postseason game postponed by poor weather is deemed suspended and has to be picked up at the same spot and played to conclusion the following day. Unlike the regular season, the suspended tilt can't be finished before a regularly-scheduled game.
In this case, Games 4 and 5 would've been pushed back a day each to Friday and Saturday, with Game 3 finishing on Thursday.
"That would've been terrible," DeWitt said.
It didn't come to pass. The last 2 1/3 innings were played swiftly, with only one baserunner and no hits. Cardinals closer Jason Motte was called on to toss a two-inning save, his second save of the series and the longest of his career. Inside the clubhouse during the delay, Motte said it dawned on him that a two-inning save might be in his immediate future. After all, Motte represented the 19th time Cards manager Mike Matheny has used his bullpen during the last four games, three of them wins.
"I knew there was an option of me going out for two innings before anyone even said anything," Motte relayed after a game in which he retired all six Giants he faced. "It was always in my head. When I was told that, I just did what I needed to do and went out there."
The suspension rule was memorialized not long after the 2008 postseason, during which Game 5 of the World Series at Philadelphia was stopped in a downpour after Tampa Bay tied it at 3 in the top of the seventh. At the time, Major League postseason rules mimicked the regular season, and a postponement would have meant reversion to a Phillies 3-2 victory in six innings. Since the Phils were leading the series 3-1 at the time, they would've won only the second championship in their history in that rather anticlimactic fashion. When the game was resumed three days later, the Phillies won, 4-3.
That offseason, the owners voted to formally alter the rule to the way it currently reads. Thus far, it has been invoked just once: last Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium when rain wiped out Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Tigers midway through the second inning with the score tied at 1. That game was resumed the next day, and Detroit wound up winning, 9-3.
The National Weather Service had predicted occasional showers and thunderstorms between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. CT in St. Louis. Both teams took batting practice in a light mist, and by game time, the sun was actually peeking through the clouds. Cards starter Kyle Lohse threw his first pitch to the Giants center fielder Angel Pagan as scheduled at 3:08 p.m. The good karma lasted until 5:28 p.m., when the skies opened and all the players were whisked off the field.
Players and managers tried to whittle away the time in their respective clubhouses. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he sat in his office talking with general manager Brian Sabean and a few of his scouts. Asked what he did during the 208-minute delay, DeWitt said simply: "Hung out."
Lohse, who had been pulled from the game by Matheny with two out in the sixth, scratched his chin.
"Let's see. ... Hung out, played on iPads, listened to 'Carp' sing a little bit, do a little dance," Lohse said, referring to teammate Chris Carpenter.
"We just had to stay ready," Pagan said about the mood in his clubhouse. "I didn't want them to postpone it. I wanted to play today and try to win today. We were ready to play today. Rain delays are going to happen. You just have to be mentally tough. We never looked for a rainout. We were just waiting for a time when we had to go back out there."
The delay included at least an hour when little rain fell, but officials didn't want to resume the game with a small front about to roll through. After another short wave of rain, groundskeepers prepared the field and the Giants took their respective positions. What remained was about half the crowd of 45,850, wildly waving white towels as Lopez prepared to face Jay.
Both teams tried to make the best of it, Bochy said.
"They were concerned about starting the game again with another cell coming, so that's why we were in a holding pattern the whole time," the Giants manager said. "You hate to have a long delay like this, but it is part of the game. Both teams had to deal with it. They brought in a pretty good pitcher, and we just couldn't do much against him after the rain delay."