ST. LOUIS -- They intruded, not unexpectedly but certainly without a welcome, during the middle innings of Sunday's National League Division Series opener between the Cardinals and Nationals. Indeed, those late-afternoon shadows that have been the source of ire in postseasons past were again a pesky problem to hitters trying to pick up the spin of pitches as Game 1 progressed at Busch Stadium.
A mid-afternoon start time makes shadows a regular problem in St. Louis during October. The two clubs had three shadow-free innings on Sunday before home plate found itself cast into the shade. It took several innings for the shadows to expand wide enough to cover the mound, leaving players with the task of focusing on pitches coming from a pitcher standing in bright sunshine.
"It's hard to hit when you can't see the ball, when you can't see the spin of the ball particularly," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. "But I'm not surprised. It happens every year."
Those in the other clubhouse expressed that they had similar difficulties.
"I don't know how to explain it," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "When they're throwing it, you don't see spin real well. The ball looks dark, and you can't pick up spin. If you're not seeing that, it can be tough to read sliders and curveballs. It just makes it hard."
The shadows could be an even greater hindrance on Monday, as Game 2 is scheduled to start at 3:37 p.m. CT on TBS. That is 90 minutes later than Sunday's start, meaning that the hitters will begin the game with shadows already over home plate.
It will be the third straight postseason game that the Cardinals will play with the added obstruction. Friday's Wild Card game in Atlanta also offered its own issues with shadows. St. Louis managed six runs in that game, but did not score after the shadows set in on Sunday.
"They may have been talking internally, but they weren't making a big deal about it," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have been pretty consistent about not giving the excuses. You know, the other team has to deal with them just like we do. Once you start going down that road, seems like you're on a trail to fail."