Many of the 38,410 fans who ventured out to Wrigley on Monday morning were back in front of their own TV sets by the time the Cubs finished off St. Louis 7-0 in the opener of their five-game showdown.
"I'm not surprised anymore," manager Dusty Baker said of the remaining fans. "Because I saw it earlier in the year in a rain delay. I imagine the bars around here were very happy."
The Cubs moved to within 1½ games of the division-leading Cards, with a day-night doubleheader scheduled for Tuesday.
With an extra day of rest to face the team he shut down in St. Louis last week, Prior improved to 14-5 and is 6-0 with an 0.57 ERA in his last six starts.
"I don't feel different," Prior said. "The stakes are higher, so maybe that's making me focus a little bit more. Mechanically, I didn't feel great today, but that's probably helping me focus. I can't say why I'm doing all right.
"It's baseball. It's a game of streaks, and fortunately I'm on the positive side of one. I was on a negative streak going into the All Star break, so it seems to all average out."
The Cubs stranded eight runners through four innings before breaking through with a six-run fifth inning off starter Woody Williams (14-7) and reliever Jeff Fassero. Sammy Sosa sparked the inning by sprinting from first to third on a single to medium center, faking center fielder Jim Edmonds by slowing down going into second.
"That's something Sammy probably did seven or eight years ago," Eric Karros said. "I don't know if you see that very often now, but that is the play of the game."
Karros singled home Sosa, and after a walk to Aramis Ramirez, Ramon Martinez made it 2-0 with an RBI single. Damian Miller followed with a sacrifice fly, and Prior added an RBI single, ending Williams' long day. The Cubs added two more runs in the inning, and Karros finished off the scoring with a homer in the sixth.
Waiting around so long to start the game was monotonous for the players as well as the fans.
"You have to trust that the weatherman and the TV and the radar is correct," Baker said. "We had about four or five starting times from the time we got here. Every hour it was going to stop [raining], and it wouldn't."
Prior took a nap and Karros passed the time playing around with a camcorder as others played cards and watched TV.
"Obviously [the wait] is not real conducive to playing," Karros said. "But I just say, 'Heck, being over in their clubhouse for 4 hours 17 minutes, now that stinks. So from that standpoint, I'd like to wait five hours every game, because that's 'advantage, Cubs.'"