CLEVELAND - When the game finally ended, Friday night had become Saturday morning, May had turned to June and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was tired of trying to predict the weather.
James Loney homered twice, four Tampa Bay pitchers combined on a one-hitter and the Rays endured nearly five hours of rain delays before beating the Cleveland Indians 9-2 for their sixth straight win in a game that ended at 2:53 a.m.
Scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m., the game was delayed three times before finally resuming at 12:13 a.m. — 2 hours, 39 minutes after the third and lengthiest delay. Before that there was uncertainty, confusion and, of course, rain.
"It's a very awkward way to do this, "said Maddon, who spent the weather stoppages monitoring the storms on an iPad in his office. "But if you're going to stick around that long you might as well win."
The teams were delayed a total of 4:49, long enough for the calendar to change before nine innings were played. It ended just before 3 a.m., giving the teams a short turnaround before a 1:05 start on Saturday.
It was the majors' third marathon game in two days. On Thursday night, Kansas City and St. Louis were delayed an hour before the first pitch and another 4 hours, 32 minutes by rain before the Royals beat Cardinals 4-2 well after 3 in the morning.
And about 20 minutes after the Rays got their final out, the San Diego Padres finished off a 4-3, 17-inning victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that took 4:58.
Afterward, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria went on Twitter to thank the few thousand fans who hung around until the end.
"A sincere thanks to each and every fan that stuck around to watch that game!" Longoria wrote. "You all made it fun. (hash)ClevelandRocks."
Matt Joyce and Loney connected for two-run homers in Tampa's five-run third inning off Scott Barnes (0-1), who replaced starter Corey Kluber following the weather stoppages. Loney added a solo shot to make it 6-2 in the eighth.
Jamey Wright (1-1) came in for unbeaten Tampa starter Matt Moore and pitched three innings for the Rays, who went an AL-best 18-10 in May. Cleveland's only hit was Ryan Raburn's RBI double in the fifth off Josh Lueke.
Cesar Ramos pitched three hitless innings for his first career save.
The teams had little choice but wait out the long delays. With a forecast for heavy rain on Saturday and Sunday, crew chief Fieldin Culbreth and the umpires figured they had to try to get in one game with the possibility the whole weekend could get washed out. The teams aren't scheduled to meet again this season.
The game was delayed 1 hours, 57 minutes at the start, 13 minutes in the second inning and then for another 2:39 before it started again in front of a crowd that began as more than 30,000 and dwindled to just a few thousand, who waited it out and were rewarded for their patience.
At about 11 p.m., Maddon, Indians manager Terry Francona, Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti and two umpires did a walking tour of the saturated outfield grass to inspect the conditions. Not long after that, the overworked grounds crew was summoned again to get the field ready and at 12:13 a.m. Wright threw a pitch to Nick Swisher.
At one point during the third delay, Maddon, with the hood of his blue sweatshirt pulled over his head to try and stay dry, took a stroll through the soggy outfield and thought it might be unplayable.
But in the end, he felt Culbreth and his crew handled things well.
"It was very confusing to everybody," Maddon said. "Fieldin and the boys, umpiring wise, they were handed this. The group here felt the Indians really wanted to play the game tonight."
Francona, too, praised the umpires.
"I thought they handled it very well," he said.
After thunderstorms blasted through the area, the 7:05 p.m. start was pushed back to 9:02 p.m. and the teams took the field under threatening skies.
Kluber got two outs in the second inning when play was halted by rain at 9:18 as Culbreth ordered the grounds crew to put the tarp on the field. But within seconds of the infield being covered, the rain stopped and the game was re-started just 13 minutes later.
Kluber gave up a walk and got Desmond Jennings to line out for the last out in the second when the rain resumed after three minutes of play and the game was stopped again at 9:34 p.m.
Both Maddon and Francona met separately with the umpires as fans scrambled to stay dry. The Indians announced they reduced $1 dollar hot dogs to 50 cents as a way of thanking fans for enduring the rain. During the third delay, fans watched out-of-town games on the giant scoreboard and cheered when Baltimore beat the first-place Detroit Tigers on a walkoff homer, moving the Indians into a temporary tie atop the AL Central.
Joyce said players wondered if they would ever take the field.
"We were actually in the dark pretty much the whole night," he said. "It's tough. A lot of guys were ready to go home and play a doubleheader (Saturday)."
The Rays came out swinging after the lengthy delays as Joyce and Loney homered off Barnes in the third to give Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead.
Yunel Escobar singled with one out, and with two outs, Joyce drove Barnes' pitch 411 feet over the wall in right-centre for his 10th homer. Kelly Johnson walked and scored on Longoria's double, and Loney followed with his sixth homer, a shot that drew boos from the doused fans hanging around.
Held without a hit through four innings by Moore and the journeyman Wright, the Indians cut it to 5-2 in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Yan Gomes and Raburn's two-out RBI double.
NOTES: It was Loney's first multihomer game since Sept. 7, 2007. ... Maddon said there has been discussion about starting Moore on Sunday, built it's more likely he will next in Detroit next week. ... Browns offensive linemen, including Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, visited the Indians clubhouse before the game and then crowded into the dugout to stay out of the rain. Thomas couldn't convince one of the rookies to do a belly slide across the tarp for money. ... Indians closer Chris Perez, on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder, will be reevaluated Sunday before the next step in his rehab is mapped out. ... Rays RHP Alex Colome, who made his major league debut Thursday in Miami, was optioned to Triple-A Durham. LHP Jeff Beliveau was recalled, but later optioned so Rays RHP Chris Archer can make his season debut Saturday.