Late start at Wrigley provides odd scene

CHICAGO – Scenes don’t come any stranger than they did Monday at Wrigley Field when the upper deck was mostly empty, the owner was shaking hands in the bleachers during the game and players could hear everyday conversations in the stands between pitches.

When the Cubs and Pirates finally got together Monday to play each other for the last time this season, a rain delay of 3 hours and 37 minutes at the outset created the latest starting time in Wrigley Field history.

When the first pitch took place at 10:42 p.m., Wrigley Field ushers were telling fans in the upper deck they were free to find better seats on the lower level. The handful that did stay well above the action was primarily doing it to have easier access to foul balls.

Previously, the latest start to a game at Wrigley came July 26, 2005 when the first pitch was delivered at 9:48 p.m. That game ended up being better known as the night Greg Maddux recorded his 3,000th strikeout.

The “paid” crowd Monday was announced at 33,017, but there were about 5,000 on hand at first pitch and an estimated 750 in the stands at the final out when the center-field scoreboard clock struck 1:27 a.m. and the Pittsburgh Pirates had finished off a 3-0 victory.

“I could hear them talking on their phones and whatever they said during the game,” amused Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano said about the fans afterward. “It was a funny night tonight.”

Soriano knows the behavior of the fans in the bleachers well, but even if he didn’t, it was easy to tell what had been going on out there for some in the crowd.

“They joked with me but that’s what they do all the time,” Soriano said. “A couple were drunk guys. I knew they were drunk because they waited for three hours. I was having fun with them.

“They had to do something to enjoy it because they waited so long. Drunk. They didn’t know what they were doing.”

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts probably ran into the very paying customers Soriano was talking about. He took a stroll in the bleachers shortly after the game had started, presumably because he wanted to shake the hands of the heartiest of Cubs fans.

The delay was not Ricketts’ doing, though. With the Pirates out of off days the remainder of the season and still in the wild-card playoff hunt, umpires were willing to wait as long as necessary to get the game played.

It ended up not providing the best environment for baseball, although the pitchers weren’t complaining. The Pirates had just five hits to go along with their three runs. The Cubs had only a pair of hits.

“There weren’t very many good at-bats by either team the whole game,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “You can chalk it up to maybe sitting around all day waiting because both teams were in a little bit of a daze out there.”