Astros weather wild night at Wrigley

Astros weather wild night at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- A game that started at a reasonable hour of 6:05 p.m. CT ended close to midnight, thanks to two rain delays, both of which included a spectacular lightning display and a steady downpour that ranged from moderate to downright frightening.

The second delay, which began somewhere in the neighborhood of 11:12 p.m., brought the game to a merciful end in the bottom of the eighth inning, due in part to Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who ran off the field as the thunder and lightning grew louder, brighter and scarier. Berkman did not wait for crew chief Wally Bell to finally end the madness before he exited the premises.

Through the muddied and flooded mess, the end result was a 2-0 Astros win over the Cubs before a fraction of the announced crowd of 40,867 on Monday night -- and nearly, Tuesday morning -- at Wrigley Field.

"Let me say this -- I've never been so nervous out on the field in my life," Berkman said. "Growing up in Texas, you see those kinds of storms all the time and you learn lightning is nothing to fool around with. I'll stand out there in a rain storm, all day long. But when it's thundering and lightning, in that kind of proximity, it's definitely a hazard."

Play stopped for the first time at 7:39 p.m., just before torrential downpours became gusting wind and hailstorms, delaying the top of the sixth. Tornado sirens blared from just beyond Wrigley Field as the public address announcer implored the fans to "seek cover."

For the better part of the next three hours, fans sought cover in the only place they could -- the ramps and concourses. Others found shelter in the upper areas of the stands.

That alone was enough to irk the players, who felt the fans' safety was just as much of a concern as their own.

"You've got to get the fans out of there," Berkman said. "We've got to be out there, but if you give those fans a reason to hang around, they will. Tonight was a night they needed to be discouraged from being outside in those kinds of conditions."

Brian Moehler, the winning pitcher, expressed a similar sentiment.

"Thank goodness it was nothing more than some high wind and some lightning," he said. "God forbid if those people would have been in the concourse and something would have happened."

"Let me say this -- I've never been so nervous out on the field in my life. Growing up in Texas, you see those kinds of storms all the time and you learn lightning is nothing to fool around with."
-- Lance Berkman

After nearly two hours, the grounds crew made its first appearance, gathering before a cheering crowd to dump the puddles of water off the tarp. Fans scurried to their seats in anticipation of a 10:20 p.m. start, but the lightning never let up. Still, the umpires allowed the game to resume, even as the lightning appeared more frequently, accompanied by deafening thunder.

Before LaTroy Hawkins took the mound in the bottom of the eighth, Berkman ran back to the dugout -- jokingly, according to the first baseman -- to remove his silver necklace.

But minutes later, Berkman, again startled by the ear-splitting conditions, had seen, and heard, enough. He ran for cover, even before the umpires officially shooed the players off the field.

"If they had continued the game, I wouldn't have gone back out there," Berkman said. "Not for a while. Like I said before the inning, you have to be an idiot to stand outside in a lightning storm. That's, to me, common sense and there's no reason to put anybody in harm's way needlessly."

Manager Cecil Cooper couldn't remember ever staying on a field during a lightning storm.

"I've never experienced it," he said. "Not as a player -- lightning -- it never happened. It's very, very dangerous, and I'm glad someone realized it was not a good situation."

Still, despite the chaotic conditions, Cooper didn't lose sight of the big picture. The Astros won for the fourth time in a row, and for the seventh time in eight games.

Moehler worked with a 2-0 lead through five shutout frames, walking none and striking out four.

"Terrific job by Mr. Brian Moehler again," Cooper said. "As I've said all the time this year, he's been a lifesaver. Every time we put him in the situation, he always seems to come through, and tonight was a big one for us to get off on the right foot here."

Said Moehler: "I felt like I was getting ahead of the hitters, changing speeds. They were swinging early in the count and I was getting some quick outs. Obviously, I wish I had been out there a little longer, but we got the win, so that's what's important."

Hawkins logged the save after striking out Alfonso Soriano just before the game was called. He replaced Geoff Geary, who tweaked his groin in the seventh.

While Hawkins' teammates were clearly irked by the weather conditions, the newest Astro had no such reaction.

"I was laughing at Ty [Wigginton]," Hawkins said. "He jumped and started running, and I started laughing. I was mad they stopped [the game]. I wanted to keep pitching.

"I was just laughing when it happened. I looked at Ty and looked at Lance and said, 'I guess it's time to get off the field.'"

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.