CHICAGO – Braves who were asked said they never played in conditions as brutally cold and miserable as what they played in Saturday in a wild 14-10 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Some said they hope to never do it again.
The first-pitch temperature was 38 degrees with a wind-chill reading of 28, and a howling wind blew light rain across the field for almost the entire game.
By the fourth inning the announced wind chill was 25, and players said by the late innings it was colder still -- so cold and windy that some said they lost feeling in their fingers.
“It got to the point where I was worried about the infielders catching the ball because I was afraid they couldn’t get it across the diamond,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I mean, they literally froze up. You just don’t want anybody to tear their shoulder up or anything like that.”
The Braves had a 10-2 lead after four innings and still led 10-5 before the Cubs in the eighth put together one of the most unusual nine-run innings anyone could recall, getting only three hits but capitalizing on five walks (three with bases loaded), two hit-by-pitches, a wild pitch and an error as four Braves relievers struggled in vain to throw strikes in the bitterly cold and damp conditions.
“I’ve been playing since 2006 and never seen anything like that,” said veteran Peter Moylan, the last of the relievers in the inning and the one who threw the wild pitch that let in a run. “We’ve been rained out and been snowed out, but we’ve never had to play through (expletive) like that.”
Braves slugger Freddie Freeman said returning to Chicago for a game or even a doubleheader on an off day would’ve been preferable to playing in Saturday’s conditions
“Hopefully tomorrow (Sunday) they have a little better sense of what’s going on,” he said “We were just lucky no one got hurt. You never know what can happen the next couple of days, how people are feeling. Win or lose, that was a tough one to play.”
Saturday morning as the weather deteriorated, there were informal discussions about possible mutual off days when the Braves might be able to return to make up one or both games if Saturday or Sunday conditions forced postponements. May 14, an off day after the Braves’ Tampa Bay-Miami trip, was a possibility.
But Cubs’ officials preference was always to get Saturday’s game in if at all possible, and they did.
“I don’t understand it one bit. It was the worst game I’ve ever been part of weather-wise,” Freeman said. “That was tough. Very surprising how well both teams did. We couldn’t even grip the ball to do anything. It was 10-5, we were winning and they had (one out with runners on) first and second, and if there was a ground ball we weren’t turning two. That’s how bad it was.
“We couldn’t throw the ball, we couldn’t grip the ball. They (other infielders) were just going to flip the ball to second and not throw, and if I had gotten a ground ball I was just going to run it to first base because I couldn’t throw to second. Because our hands, we couldn’t open our hands. We were cramping and everything. ...
“If you can’t turn two in a game (because of the cold), then (baseball) should look in the mirror and see what’s going on. That was definitely a tough one. We walked so many guys but we can’t even be upset. We couldn’t even throw the ball in the infield between innings, how are they supposed to throw a ball to the plate and hit a glove, hit a spot? Just a tell-tale sign, they scored nine runs in one inning and had three hits.”
Moylan said, “Hopefully we don’t play too many more games in these kind of conditions. The fact that we even started and played through what we did was a miracle. Clearly they didn’t want us to have to come back on an off day, so we played through that (expletive).”
The teams could encounter similar conditions Sunday when the forecast for the series finale calls for temperatures in the high 30s and a 20-40 percent chance of afternoon rain.
“If it’s as cold (Sunday) as it was the last two innings I don’t even think it’s possible; I don’t think you can make it a full nine innings like that,” said reliever Luke Jackson, who started the eighth inning and hit the first batter he faced, former Brave Jason Heyward. “But those guys stuck it out for nine innings today, which is pretty insane.
“It rained the whole time, mist or snow or whatever you call it. And tomorrow it’s supposed to be the same way? If we all don’t come out of here with pneumonia I think we’ll be alright, I think we’ll have won this trip. That’s pretty ridiculous.”
Jackson said it was great in the heated, enclosed bullpen, but when relievers entered the game it took only minutes before they began to lose feeling in their hands.
“I don’t think anything I ever pitched in is close to that,” Jackson said. “I think it was the fact that it was so windy, your hand would dry out immediately. So after about 10 pitches you couldn’t feel the ball. And after that it was hopefully mechanics would kind of take it there. It was tough to throw any type of off-speed. I tip (his cap) to the guys that did it earlier. It was pretty brutal out here.”
Reliever Jose Ramirez was charged with five of the nine runs in the eighth inning. He gave up two hits, two walks (one intentional) and hit a batter. He recorded one out.
“It felt very challenging,” Ramirez said through a translator. “I’ve never pitched in temperatures like that before. The thing that I struggled with was, I couldn’t feel the ball because of my hand. I couldn’t feel it…. I felt like I just couldn’t throw my breaking stuff. I couldn’t feel anything.”
Aussie sidearmer Moylan said. “That was miserable. I mean, it’s great in the pen because you’re indoors. Then the minute you went outside you’d completely freeze up. It was insane. Every ball that you got was like a rock. It was effectively like trying to throw a cue ball with wet hands. Newk (Braves starter Sean Newcomb) did a great job to be able to get through the innings that he did. I’m not sure there’s much we can do to prepare for that except maybe throw bullpens in a freezer.”
Veteran lefty Sam Freeman had allowed just three hits and two walks in nine scoreless appearances before Saturday, when he walked all three batters he faced in the eighth inning including two with bases loaded.
“The (Cubs) had to pitch in it too,” Sam Freeman said, refusing to use the cold as an excuse. “I just didn’t execute today. It wasn’t the weather; like I say, they had to do it too. Just didn’t execute. I just (expletive) the bed today.”
Ramirez, a 6-foot-5 Massachusetts native, pitched impressively given the conditions, allowing six hits, three runs (two earned) and four walks with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings, with two hits and a bases-loaded walk coming in the sixth inning as conditions worsened and after he’d sat through several long Braves innings including a five-run third that gave them a 9-1 lead.
Former Cubs All-Star Jose Quintana lasted just 2 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs, seven hits and four walks.
“It’s more of a mental thing, and on top of it I’m just a little bit used to it,” Newcomb said. “Grew up in the Boston area so I’m kind of used to the cold weather. I’ve pitched in colder (temperatures), but never with the rain and the wind and cold mixed together. It was pretty tough.”
Jackson said, “Honestly, the fact that he made it to the sixth inning in that weather is absolutely insane. He’s got that Boston blood in him, so I guess that helps. But yeah, in the bullpen you felt great, everyone was ready to come in and rock ‘n’ roll, then you opened the door and it was like going into a refrigerator. Hand just gets kind of super-cold and you have about five pitches before it’s gone. That’s definitely the worst situation I’ve ever had to pitch in.”
Snitker, an Illinois native, said he worried a player could get hurt playing in such conditions, noting the differences in playing football and baseball in freezing weather.
“I really do (worry),” he said. “It’s not healthy for these guys to be out there in those conditions. I mean, it’s different in football. We’re throwing the baseball around, and these guys – it’s not healthy for them. Especially as you’re out there in a long inning like that and then have to throw a ball across the diamond. It’s not good.”
It was so cold that Braves outfielders ran to the enclosed bullpen under the right-field bleachers during innings to warm up during a couple of pitching changes.
“I’m glad they had the opportunity to do that,” Snitker said. “It’s rough on them too, to have to sit out there for 20 minutes and not get a ball hit, then have to make a throw. I mean, I’ve seen guys hurt their arm doing that. It’s not conducive for health or anything good when you’re playing in that kind of conditions.”