Rainout a minor inconvenience for Indians, nightmare for Tigers

BY foxsports • September 29, 2016

DETROIT -- What Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona calls an "inconvenience" could be part of a major travel nightmare for the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit's game with Cleveland on Thursday was called off after more than six inches of rain fell on Comerica Park in less than 24 hours.

The two teams, in concert with the umpires and Major League Baseball, waited 4 hours, 13 minutes before postponing the game.

It will be made up Monday afternoon, if necessary.

It will be necessary if an American League wild card berth is at stake for Detroit or if Cleveland can claim the top seed in the league to get home-field advantage throughout the post-season.

"We haven't figured out a way to control the weather and the umpires were very good about communicating with us," Francona said.

He and Detroit manager Brad Ausmus toured the field with umpires right around the time of the scheduled 1:10 p.m. scheduled start, part of about a two-hour period where the rain was light or non-existent.

"We walked the field once," Francona said, "and I think we all knew the situation, so put your seatbelt on and either play cards or watch TV.

"I think this is one of those days where you're glad you're not 20 games out as opposed to being in it. Because all it is is an inconvenience. We can live with that.

"It couldn't have taken any more water, at all. At that point we were a little iffy. It was soft. With the forecast coming. It was going to be tough.

"There's other things. I know they're expecting rain on the East Coast. You start getting backed up, it leads to other problems. So for us to be inconvenienced for four hours isn't the end of the world. And I understand why. And like I say, the communication was good."

The same rain system that truncated Detroit's 6-3 victory over Cleveland after five innings Wednesday night was still in place Thursday and was slated to stick around through Saturday.

Detroit travels to Atlanta to close its regular season schedule with an inter-league series against the suddenly hot Braves, who are playing their last games at Turner Field. The Tigers will have to play all three games without designated hitter Victor Martinez, who bats cleanup, in their starting lineup.

Ausmus said he would push lefty Daniel Norris, scheduled to start Thursday, back to Friday and have Jordan Zimmermann, who has made just two starts and three appearances since June 30 move back one day to Saturday.

Ace Justin Verlander will pitch Sunday if the game has a bearing on Detroit's chances for a wild card spot.

The Tigers could play five games in five cities in five day. They will close the regular season Sunday in Atlanta and if there's a chance they could make one of the wild card berths (or Cleveland could qualify for best record in the league) they would return to Detroit to play the Indians in the makeup game.

There could be a wild card tie-breaker Tuesday, the wild card playoff game Wednesday and the first divisional game on Thursday.

"I'm aware of it," Ausmus said, "but one thing at a time. If that's the scenario, then that's a good thing. That's a good problem to have."

Cleveland goes to Kansas City for a series it will primarily regard as a chance to get its rotation and bullpen set up for the start of the divisional playoff round. The Indians will play their regulars all three games to get them playoff-ready.

Francona said lefty Ryan Merritt will start Friday with right-hander Adam Plutko getting squeezed out.

"Plutko threw the other day in relief," Francona said. "We wanted to see Merritt get a start and today was his day. So..."

Francona also said Josh Tomlin will pitch Sunday as planned.

When players began trickling in late Thursday morning, the dirt surface surrounding the playing field was half-covered with standing water, both dugouts had water spilling down into the runways and Cleveland's batting cage under the stands had three inches of water on the floor.

Players from both teams were delayed as much as 90 minutes on their way to Comerica Park due to flooded freeways and surface streets as rain alternated between downpours and sprinkles.

The Indians' second team bus had to be canceled because it couldn't navigate the traffic and the players brought from their hotel in suburban Detroit to the park by taxis.

"We don't have any (input)," Ausmus said on whether the game would be played or not. "It's in MLB's hands. We don't have any call whatsoever. We can tell them what we think, but ultimately it's their call."

The rain stopped close to the scheduled start time of 1:10 PM and the infield tarp was brought off (for a second time) to clear water. The grounds crew then began to work on the infield dirt, pitcher's mound and batters boxes -- but neither team sent its starting pitcher out to warm up.

Ausmus and Francona toured the outfield with umpires, retreated to their respective clubhouses and the infield was covered again. There was no rain falling at that time but both managers had said earlier in the series that Major League Baseball wanted to avoid starting a game that would have to be interrupted by rain for an hour or more, causing both teams to lose their starting pitchers.

"I think umpires are very cognizant of not wanting to burn a team's -- or both teams' -- starting pitcher," Ausmus said, "because they know how important that is. So they don't want to start if they think, in 45 minutes we're going to have to put on the tarp for an hour and now both starting pitchers are burned."

Francona also did not regard a return visit to Detroit for a Monday game as an irritation. His team has already qualified to play the divisional round by winning its division.

"I don't think it's that bad," he said. "For us, it doesn't matter. We'd have three days off (without playing Monday), we'd have two instead. I think it'll be a fun game to play, actually. Either way, we'll be okay. It's not that big a deal."

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