As the downpour at Fenway Park intensified on the night of Aug. 7, the Red Sox and Royals — at the behest of the umpiring crew — kept playing through conditions ill-suited to baseball. With Kansas City visiting for the first and only time of the year, and the series finale between the teams stuck in a 4-4 deadlock in the late innings, the game proceeded in hopes that a single run would allow the teams to avoid a worst-case scenario.
Dave Mellor, head groundskeeper at Fenway Park, kept in touch with the two weather services with whom the Red Sox consult and met regularly with the umpires on the field between innings to offer the grim updates. If the tarp was brought out and the game delayed, there was a very real chance it could be delayed for hours — or, worse, suspended with a need to have the Royals return later in the season to complete the contest. No one wanted that.
“I’ve gone through a lot of rain games in a 35-year career,” said Mellor. “You just never know. Timing is everything. You hope that for that hit, that that run is going to score.”
It didn’t. And so, with the teams remaining tied through nine innings, Josh Taylor took the mound for the top of the 10th. After the Red Sox lefthander fell behind Meibrys Viloria, 2-1, the umpires called for the tarp to protect a field sitting at the bottom of a steady waterfall.
After nearly two hours, Major League Baseball made the unwanted determination: The game would be suspended. MLB quickly consulted with the Players Association and determined that play would resume on what had been a mutual offday of Aug. 22.
A suspended game is a rarity. Since 2013, there had been just nine suspended games, and prior to 2019, the last that had been completed more than one day after the suspension of the contest came in 2018, when a game between the Yankees and Nationals was suspended May 15 and resumed June 18.
The last time the Red Sox had taken part in a suspended game that did not get completed the next day was more than 50 years earlier, on June 13, 1968, when the second game of a doubleheader with the Angels at Fenway Park was suspended in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. The teams resumed on Aug. 4, with the Red Sox winning, 5-1, on a walkoff grand slam.
A half-century (and change) is a long time between events, so the Red Sox didn’t have a clear template for how to handle Thursday’s resumption of the game against the Royals. Team chief operations officer Jonathan Gilula and chief marketing officer Adam Grossman recognized an interesting puzzle.
Any fan, of course, who’d been in attendance on Aug. 7 could return. But given that the resumed game could last as little as four batters — three outs for the Royals and a walkoff homer by the Red Sox — and that the game would be restarting at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, it seemed reasonable to expect tumbleweeds to roll through a mostly empty Fenway Park. The prospect was unwelcome.
“This is a highly unique situation . . . We’ve done a lot weather-wise and had to scramble and be nimble with doubleheaders, short time frames between scheduled games and a doubleheader, but this one was new for us,” said Gilula. “From the moment the [suspension] announcement was made it was like, ‘What can we do to maximize the number of bodies and people that would be able to come to Fenway Park?’ ”
The team hatched an idea that dovetailed with another mission — that of encouraging young fans to experience Fenway and baseball. The Sox made entry free for patrons ages 18 and under while letting all other fans enter for a $5 donation to the Jimmy Fund, while working with Aramark to provide discounted concessions.
Given that the game could end in a matter of minutes, the team added elements such as tour guides around the park, a chance to walk on the warning track before the game, and a chance for kids to run the bases after the game. In so doing, the Sox wanted to “just create a really cool and different atmosphere at the ballpark that we may not be afforded the opportunity to do on a typical game day,” said Gilula.
The team made admission available via its website through Wednesday — the day before the game — in order to get a rough headcount, something necessary to determine the right number of ballpark employees for the day. (The Sox will open all gates and expect most concession stands to be open.) As of Wednesday afternoon, the team had sold more than 6,000 of the $5 tickets with more than 6,000 free tickets committed to kids — with more fans to come with their original game tickets.
But what will those fans see? Even the players were curious about that question.
“They’re going to have a different roster and we’re going to have a different roster [than on Aug. 7],” said Red Sox pitcher Andrew Cashner. “How does that work?”
Fair question. Anyone who is on the Royals and Red Sox active rosters on Thursday — even if they weren’t on their respective teams on Aug. 7 — can play. A new umpiring crew will be on hand, overseeing lineups and batting orders that will be exactly as they were at the moment of suspension — but with players no longer in their respective organizations (such as Billy Hamilton) getting replaced by substitutes.
So, in the baseball archives, it’s possible that Ryan Brasier (in Pawtucket Aug. 7, now with the Red Sox) could pitch in a game that officially took place on Aug. 7, even though he was in Triple A that day. It’s a wormhole of sorts, warping the space-time continuum. The Red Sox can decide whether Taylor — who was pitching at the start of the rain delay — will return to the mound to reopen the game, or if they’ll tab a different pitcher.
“It’s crazy,” said reliever Matt Barnes.
It’s not ideal for either team. The Royals will lose an offday, flying from Baltimore late Wednesday night, arriving for a brief stay in Boston, playing their mini-game, then heading out to Detroit. The Red Sox, who’d planned to fly out early on Thursday to San Diego, where they would have enjoyed an offday, will instead land on Thursday night.
“I think everybody would like to have the offday in San Diego,” said Barnes. “But it is what it is.”
And in this case, “it” is something unique.
“We learn something new every day,” said Gilula. “[Thursday] will not be an exception.”