On Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati, the scuffling New York Mets came out in the first inning hoping to shake off their recent woes with a good start against the Reds. The first two batters, Brandon Nimmo and Wilmer Flores, struck out. Then Asdrubal Cabrera came to the plate and socked a ground-rule double to left. A two-out rally and some hope for the Mets?
After Cabrera’s double from the third slot, Jim Riggleman, the Reds’ alert interim manager, pointed out the error. The home plate umpire, Gabe Morales, turned to a hapless Jay Bruce standing at the plate to bat cleanup and called him out. Inning, and potential rally, over.
Salt was rubbed in the Mets’ wound when they went on to lose, 2-1, in 10 innings, which only served to highlight how vital Cabrera had been as a base runner. The loss was the Mets’ eighth in their last nine games.
“It’s frustrating,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said at his postgame news conference. “It probably cost us the game.”
Callaway explained that there were two versions of the lineup: One put into the computer and one written by hand and delivered to the opposing manager. In the computer version, which is the one that was announced during the game, Flores was batting second and Cabrera third. But in the version delivered to Riggleman, Cabrera was batting second.
“I knew right when they went up there that we were out of order,” Callaway said. “It was an administrative thing that I didn’t take care of. Once they announce you, you can’t do anything.”
As for the “double,” it was wiped out, and the record books will not show Cabrera batting at all the first time through the Mets’ lineup.
Why was Bruce the victim despite batting in his correct spot? Baseball rule 6.03 (b) states: “When an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and the defensive team appeals to the umpire before the first pitch to the next batter of either team, or before any play or attempted play, the umpire shall (1) declare the proper batter out; and (2) nullify any advance or score made because of a ball batted by the improper batter.”
So Bruce, the “proper batter,” was called out without swinging his bat.
“I felt bad,” Riggleman told reporters. “It’s so easy to have that happen.”
In his postgame remarks, the umpires’ crew chief, Jerry Meals, pointed out that the Reds were wise to wait to point out the error, since Flores recorded an out. Had they failed to speak up after Cabrera’s double, the incorrect order would have stayed in place for the remainder of the game.
“I’ve seen it in the minor leagues,” Meals said, when asked when he had last seen such a play. “It’s been a long time: 32 years.”
Despite Meals’ personal experience, batting out of turn occurs from time to time, even at the major league level. It last happened in July 2016 when Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, batting in what was supposed to be Jonathan Lucroy’s spot, singled against the Washington Nationals. Nationals manager Dusty Baker protested and Lucroy was ruled out.
A compendium of such lineup errors put together by Retrosheet shows that it tends to happen once or twice a season. It once happened in the 1925 World Series (without protest, as it resulted in the pitcher batting at a key spot in the game).
After the Mets’ blunder, it was a fairly quiet game between the underwhelming teams. Zack Wheeler of the Mets and Sal Romano of the Reds matched each other for the first six innings, each allowing one run while striking out seven. Cabrera, batting in his proper place in the order, drove in a run for the Mets with a groundout in the third inning. Joey Votto had a run-scoring single for the Reds in the sixth.
Effective bullpen work on both sides pushed the game into extra innings, and that is when Cincinnati got some good fortune in the form of left fielder Adam Duvall, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement. Leading off the bottom of the 10th, he sent A.J. Ramos’ 2-1 fastball over the left-field wall for the first game-ending home run of his career.
This three-game series was already memorable, with the teams executing a trade of pitcher Matt Harvey for catcher Devin Mesoraco before the first game. The lineup mistake and walk-off home run in the third game made it doubly so.
But for the Mets, who started the season with a franchise-best 11-1 start, the series may be more notable for losing two of three games to the team with the worst record in the National League.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.