Rhys Hoskins left the Phillies dugout Monday afternoon a few hours before the series opener with Washington to see members of the grounds crew holding blowtorches and shooting flames at the infield dirt.
And that was enough to let Hoskins know that the night's game was in jeopardy.
The blowtorches — scattered throughout the infield like fielders — were not enough to dry an infield soaked by a weekend rainstorm. The Phillies were forced to postpone the game. It was the first major-league game postponed for "wet grounds" since a September 1987 game in Milwaukee between the Brewers and Yankees, according to RetroSheet.org.
The Phillies and Nationals will make up the game on Tuesday with a single-admission doubleheader beginning at 3:05 p.m.
"First and foremost, we're worried about player safety out there," said Hoskins, who described the dirt as "very spongy."
Hoskins, the Phillies' union rep, examined the field with his Nationals counterpart, Max Scherzer, as well as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez, and Phillies GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler.
"It was just decided and talked about that the surface, we didn't feel safe as players," Hoskins 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."
The problem stemmed from Friday night, when the grounds crew elected to not cover the field, believing that just a small amount of rain was moving in. It was instead the start of a weekend storm that saw the region receive more than seven inches of rain. They covered the field with the tarp on Saturday, but the playing surface never had a chance to dry after being soaked on Friday.
The grounds crew unrolled the tarp on Monday after the storm passed and the field was still soaked. That prompted the Phillies to rent the blowtorches. The five torches were attached to gas tanks that sat in wheelbarrows. A grounds crew member rolled the wheelbarrow as another shot the flames, drying off the infield sections as they slowly moved from baseline to baseline.
"Basically, we're drying out the top layer of moisture to sort of turn the field over and roll the field," Phillies vice president of business affairs Howard Smith said before the game was postponed. "It's actually working."
It was not enough.
Jake Arrieta will start one of the games on Tuesday with Nick Pivetta starting the other. Erick Fedde will start the first game for Washington with Tanner Roark starting the second. The Phillies did not say which game their pitchers will start.
More rain was forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, which could make a doubleheader challenging.
"This happens, especially this time of the year," said Arrieta. "I heard that the field took on a lot of water yesterday or the day before. They're out there doing the best they could to get it ready. The last thing we want to do is get anyone hurt from poor conditions, on their side or our side. It is what it is. They will continue to get it ready and we'll be ready to play two tomorrow. Hopefully the weather cooperates."
The grounds crew stayed on the field after the game was postponed as the blowtorching reached four hours. Hoskins said the crew members told him they were confident they would have the field ready for Tuesday.
The series with the Nationals begins a nine-game homestand, which the Phillies must take advantage of if they are to chase down the first-place Braves. They entered Monday with a 4.5-game deficit. The Phillies have to get hot. But on Monday, it was only the infield dirt that was catching fire.
"The field's not always tarped," 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. But we didn't. The damage was done and we're just playing catch-up."
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