PITTSBURGH – A game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres was delayed 45 minutes Thursday due to poor air conditions caused by lingering smoke from wildfires in Canada.
Moments before the scheduled start time at 12:35 p.m., the game was pushed to a 1:20 p.m. start. During the delay, the Pirates issued a statement stating they would continue to consider weather conditions and air quality index.
The game began with the lights turned on at hazy PNC Park, and Pirates star Andrew McCutchen put on a face mask to run the bases after hitting a single in the first inning. Several thousand fans, including many children, were in attendance for the afternoon game.
“After collaborative discussions between Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, our team of expert medical providers at Allegheny Health Network, our players and staff, we have made the decision to move forward with our game today,” the Pirates' statement read. “We will continue to closely monitor the air quality index levels around the ballpark and respond accordingly.”
McCutchen said he did not express any concern with Pirates upper management and was mostly satisfied with clarification on why the game would be played.
“This is newfound territory for everybody, not just the players or MLB,” McCutchen said. “It's one of those things where you kind of have to go through it. If something like that were to ever happen again, we would have more of a feel for it. We can't just go and say, ‘Hey, we’re not playing,' or, ‘I don’t care what it's like outside, we're playing.'”
“It's new for all of us. Have to have some grace on both ends. We just went out and played the game.”
Pirates manager Derek Shelton said the delay was used to alleviate any concerns the players might have had.
“I appreciate the fact that our players were concerned about safety,” Shelton said. “I think the reason we had the delay was to make sure we were able to have conversations with some of them about their concerns. ... Our player safety is always our No. 1 concern for us.
“I think there’s always concerns when you have air quality issues. We’re going through something that we’ve never been through before.”
Pittsburgh scored three runs in the seventh inning to rally for a 5-4 win, completing a three-game sweep. Henry Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 amateur draft, was 3 for 4 and had a go-ahead single in the seventh.
Davis said the Pirates' primary concern was for the health of the 16,871 fans in attendance.
“I think there was a little more thought to some teammates with respiratory issues and some guys on the staff," Davis said. “I know myself and other players were thinking more about fans who are older and knowing that if we thought it was OK to play, they would think it was OK to be in the stadium. I'm not sure the details on the air quality or whatnot. I could tell, visibly, that it didn't look right.”
San Diego has lost five straight and eight of 10 to fall to 37-44. Padres manager Bob Melvin said the conditions had no effect.
“I didn't hear anybody complaining about it,” Melvin said. “It was a non-issue for us. I mean, yesterday and today.”
Padres starter Joe Musgrove allowed two runs in six innings. He said the delay affected his routine, but he was fine otherwise.
“I know a few guys said their eyes were burning a little bit throughout the game, it was tough to get the visuals right,” Musgrove said. “I think some guys obviously struggled with breathing a little bit. It didn't affect me too much. It was more the routine of getting fired up in here, throwing weighted balls, getting ready to go out, then getting the breaks put on, and having to chill for 20 minutes and then trying to fire it back up. I think that threw me out of whack a little bit.”
Air quality was also a concern before a 7-1 win for the Pirates on Wednesday. Thursday's game was the finale of a three-game series.
On Wednesday, Melvin said he was told Major League Baseball would consider postponing a game if the air quality index reached at least 200. The index was at 189 when the delay was announced Thursday.
Poor air quality from Canadian wildfires also led to postponements of games in New York and Philadelphia this month.
Shelton said he would be mindful of players with allergies or asthma.
"Just make sure that you’re very vocal with us in terms of how you’re feeling or what you’re doing,” Shelton said before the game Wednesday. “We definitely don’t want to put anybody in any sort of harm’s way. ... I think everybody has the concern and the health of, not only the players, but the people attending the game at the forefront of their mind.”
Melvin had a similar experience as manager of the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 14, 2020, when a doubleheader in Seattle was played with poor air quality.
“I’ve been through this before. Two hundred is kind of the level that they look at to potentially have meetings about,” Melvin said. “Seattle, we played in that game when it was at 240 or whatever it was. ... We were the guinea pig for that one.”