The Astros led, 2-0, after five innings, when the game was delayed for two hours and 45 minutes, and held on to win by the same score when the game was stopped for good with one out in the bottom of the eighth. The second delay lasted 39 minutes before the game was called shortly before midnight CT.
The second stoppage resulted from a heart-stopping thunder crack that sent Astros fielders, most notably first baseman Lance Berkman, sprinting for the dugout. Cubs shortstop Mike Fontenot was facing former Cubs reliever LaTroy Hawkins with an 0-1 count and no runners on base.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry praised the decision-making of crew chief Wally Bell, saying Bell did everything he could to get as many innings played as possible. Lightning struck in the area around Wrigley early in the eighth, but didn't hit home until right before action was halted.
"At the end there, [Bell] was made aware by [head groundskeeper] Roger [Baird] and our operations people that the original lightning was not close," Hendry said. "Finally, the last one was certainly in an area where he had no choice but to get everybody off the field."
A storm accompanied by a tornado warning first delayed the game just as the Astros' Carlos Lee was about to lead off the sixth. The first delay included two tornado-siren sessions and two fans -- one dressed as Elvis -- ignoring warnings to seek shelter and jumping onto the tarp.
"It actually looked like somebody stood above the stadium with a Ziploc bag full of water and opened it up," said Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, who gave up two runs in five innings and took the loss. "You could barely even see right field."
Hendry said it was the first time he heard tornado sirens at Wrigley in his 14 years with the Cubs. He experienced the storm among the fans, trapped near a concession stand on the Clark Street side of the park and soaked by horizontal rain coming in.
That the teams were able to retake the field after the first delay was a testament to the new drainage system installed before the season.
"The field is in tremendous shape," Hendry said. "Not only was it built extremely well, but our grounds crew has done a top-notch job."
Before the downpour, Houston starter Brian Moehler shut out the league leaders. Moehler (7-4) gave up four hits and struck out four in his second strong outing against the Cubs since the All-Star break. He didn't have to face Chicago regulars Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot and Mark DeRosa, who were rested. DeRosa did pinch-hit in the seventh and flew out to the wall in left field, the closest the Cubs came to scoring.
"Let's give credit to Mr. Moehler, who pitched well against us again for the third time this year," Hendry said. Manager Lou Piniella was not made available for postgame comment. "Maybe we thought we might get a break there after the rain delay, but their 'pen did a good job, too, for the next couple of innings."
Dempster (12-5) dropped his gaudy home record to 10-2 because of problematic first and fourth innings.
Miguel Tejada singled with one out in the first, took second on Berkman's deep flyout to center and scored on Lee's single to right. Kosuke Fukudome threw home, but the ball sailed over catcher Geovany Soto's head, bounced and landed 10 rows behind the Cubs' third-base dugout.
In the fourth, Dempster gave up three straight singles followed by a bases-loaded walk on four pitches to .206-hitting catcher Humberto Quintero, putting Houston up, 2-0. On the bright side, Dempster only threw 75 pitches and should be well rested for his next start against St. Louis. He spent the rain delay eating pizza, playing cards and throwing a football around.
"It was kind of like a wasted day at work, a really long side session," Dempster said. "It's tough. It's what you deal with sometimes; it happens. I'm not the first guy it happened to, and I'm not the last guy it's going to happen to."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.