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10/26/06 7:31 PM ET

Optimism in St. Louis for Game 4

Cards, Tigers expect window of opportunity to play

ST. LOUIS -- After a mostly dry day so far, all signs point to the scheduled playing of Game 4 of the 102nd World Series on Thursday night at Busch Stadium. Only occasional patches of mist and drizzle are in the forecast until a band of steady rain rolls in sometime close to midnight -- an estimated 16-hour soaker that should end in time to play Game 5 here Friday night as well.

That is the outlook from local meteorologists as well as Bill Findley, the Cardinals' head groundskeeper, who is now in his 11th year with the club. Findley had the tarp removed at various times throughout Thursday, and batting practice was enabled for the Cardinals and Tigers clubs that had to hit indoors Sunday in Detroit as well as before Wednesday's rainout. Start time tonight is 8:27 ET.

"We're looking at patches of drizzle, but not anything much more than that through tonight, and then closer to midnight we'll see the steady rain," Findley said. "A lot of time this patchy fog and mist doesn't show up on the radar, but we're optimistic at this point.

"We're in for a wet day [Friday], but if the forecast is true, it will give me a couple of hours to have the field ready [for Game 5]. The field does most of the work. At this point we're hoping to sneak this system through and play each game."

That is exactly what happened last weekend in Detroit, where a major storm system snuck through between the end of Game 1 and the start of a merely blustery Game 2 at Comerica Park. It appears likely that the same will happen here, but all eyes will be on the radar during the day on Friday to see if the speed of the system cooperates.

There was some light drizzle in downtown St. Louis starting at 4:30 p.m. ET, but it was brief. Expect a little bit of that this evening, in which case there could be umpire judgments on any possible delays during the game. Either way, Thursday's game seems to be in no jeopardy. A Cardinals spokesman said Major League Baseball is intent on getting this one in, and as of 7 p.m. ET there was no reason to think otherwise.

"You're going to have drizzle most of the day off and on, a couple of spotty showers," said Scott Connell, meteorologist for local NBC affiliate KSDK-TV. "[Thursday night], you may just be having drizzle until midnight, and if they want to play in the drizzle, you're not going to know until later this afternoon.

"It might be like last night, except 10 to 12 degrees warmer. Then that whole band sets up [Thursday] between 10 and midnight, and probably closer toward midnight, and it will be with us all day [Friday] until between 5 and 7, when the back edge of that should be moving out of St. Louis. There won't be a break [in the rain] during that time."

Major League Baseball officials called Wednesday night's game at around 10:30 ET, having waited a couple of hours in hopes that those rains would move through the area. The weather system stalled at that point, and it became only the 19th postponement due to rain in World Series history. That is precisely what local observers are hoping to avoid on Friday, as everyone will be rooting for a system to keep on moving and vacate around batting practice time. Overall, it seems less "dicey" than the outlook given late Wednesday night during the rainout announcement by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's vice president of baseball operations.

"That's our line of thinking, too, like [Wednesday] night, but less wet -- I'm giving it better than even odds they'll get [Thursday's] game in," said Matt Chambers, meteorologist at CBS affiliate KMOV-TV. "We'll have serious rain in the morning and midday [Friday], but probably pushing to the Illinois side by 4 p.m. That new stadium can take an impressive amount of water. I feel good about [Friday] and OK about [Thursday]."

As of now, if the games are played as scheduled in St. Louis these two days, there will be no travel day if the best-of-seven Series returns to Detroit for the games originally slated, if necessary, on Saturday and Sunday nights. The Cardinals hold a 2-1 lead, with Jeff Suppan of St. Louis scheduled to start Thursday against Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman.

Fans who had tickets to Thursday night's scheduled game at Busch Stadium will need to use those, and fans who had tickets to Wednesday's postponed Game 4 will use those for Game 5 on Friday night -- as long as rain does not interfere further.

Findley said the main challenge on Friday will be "keeping it dry. You're fighting what's going on with the weather and keeping it playable."

Friday will be all about the drainage, so there is likely to be plenty of discussion about how it compares here with old Busch Stadium, which was razed after the 2005 season.

"Old Busch had its own features," Findley said. "We like to call them 'microclimates.' Old Busch had the shade with no sun that caused problems. There was a lack of air movement there because of the bowl shape, so a lack of oxygen for the grass. But overall, the field drained well and it's really not much different here at the new ballpark.

Single-day postponements in World Series history
Date Postponed
Oct. 5, 1903 BOS (AL) @ PIT 4 Rain
Oct. 9, 1903 BOS (AL) @ PIT 7 Cold
Oct. 12, 1903 PIT @ BOS (AL) 8 Rain
Sept. 4, 1918 BOS (AL) @ CHI (NL) 1 Rain
Oct. 14, 1925 WAS @ PIT 7 Rain
Oct. 4, 1931 STL (NL) @ PHI (AL) 3 Rain
Oct. 1, 1936 NYY @ NYG 2 Rain
Oct. 3, 1941 NYY @ BKN 3 Rain
Oct. 7, 1951 NYY @ NYG 4 Rain
Oct. 4, 1956 NYY @ BKN 2 Rain
Oct. 9, 1962 SF @ NYY 5 Rain
Oct. 10, 1971 PIT @ BAL 2 Rain
Oct. 17, 1972 CIN @ OAK 3 Rain
Oct. 20, 1976 CIN @ NYY 4 Rain
Oct. 9, 1979 PIT @ BAL 1 Rain
Oct. 27, 1981 LA @ NYY 6 Rain
Oct. 26, 1986 BOS @ NYM 7 Rain
Oct. 19, 1996 ATL @ NYY 1 Rain
Oct. 25, 2006 DET @ STL 4 Rain

"[Good] drainage is a pretty common thing now with these parks. So I can't say that our drainage is better than this or that facility. We have an all-sand-based field, with a 10-inch cavity of sand under the ground and then a four-inch cavity of peat gravel under that. Below that is the same earth as old Busch [which shared part of this acreage]."

Findley said a heavy soaker presents more problems than Thursday's type of patchy rains, simply because "these all-day soakers get in the soil and they stay there." Nevertheless, Findley seemed optimistic that Game 5 could be unhindered as long as the forecast holds up.

The World Series participants had special reason for wanting to get out on the field for BP and infield/outfield practice. For example, the Cardinals needed to have coach Dave McKay hit flies in right field to Chris Duncan, who will be starting there for Game 4 and is still learning on the job. While fans typically focus on whether games are played or not amid inclement weather, what few realize is the impact on clubs when they lose those pregame opportunities.

"We put the tarp on before BP [Thursday] because it was misty, and then it cleared and they wanted to get out for BP," Findley said. "We had taken the tarp off at 9 a.m. I wanted to get [Cardinals manager Tony La Russa] out here on the field because neither team has been on the field much."

It would seem to be a moot point now based on the forecasters' likelihood that Friday's game will be played -- and probably Thursday's -- but Solomon said Wednesday night that if the games at Busch are delayed until the weekend, Commissioner Bud Selig has the discretion to use Monday as a travel day with the possible games in Detroit being pushed back to Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

"That decision still has to be made," Solomon said.

Multiple-day postponements in World Series
1911: NYG at PHI (AL) -- Game 4
Postponed six days (Oct. 18-23) due to rain
1962: NYY vs. SF -- Game 6
Postponed three days (Oct.12-14) due to rain
1975: CIN vs. BOS -- Game 6
Postponed three days (Oct. 18-20) due to rain
1989: OAK vs. SF -- Game 3
Postponed 10 days due to an earthquake
2001: NYY vs. ARI -- Start of Series
Pushed back one week (to Oct. 27) due to postponements after Sept. 11th attacks.

Major League Baseball has now required four rainouts this postseason, matching the total rainouts it had experienced previously since the 1995 expansion to a three-round format. The Cardinals had to deal with two rainouts in the National League Championship Series against the Mets -- Game 1 at Shea Stadium and Game 5 at Busch. The Tigers and Yankees were rained out of Game 2 in the American League Division Series in New York.

It was the first World Series postponement since Game 1 of the 1996 Series between the Yankees and Braves at Yankee Stadium.

The last long rain delay in the World Series was 1975, when Game 6 of the Red Sox-Reds Series was postponed for three days in Boston. That turned out to be the game Carlton Fisk won with a homer down the left-field line at Fenway Park in the bottom of the 12th inning to force Game 7. The Red Sox, of course, lost the Series.

No World Series game has ever been shortened because of rain. That is something to keep in mind Thursday, although again the forecast at this point is for the band of steady (and probably unplayable) rain to wait until closer to midnight in the local 10-to-midnight window.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.