After a quick start, the Mets have begun to stumble, losing seven of their past eight. And when things go wrong for a team, they sometimes start to go really wrong.
On Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati, the Mets came out in the first inning hoping to get off to 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?
Not so fast.
It seems the Mets’ official lineup card had Cabrera batting second and Flores third.
After Cabrera’s double from the third slot, Jim Riggleman, the Reds’ alert manager, pointed out the error. The umpires turned to a hapless Jay Bruce standing at the plate to bat cleanup and called him out. Inning over. (By rule, the catcher got the putout.)
As for the “double,” it was wiped out, and the record books won’t show Cabrera batting at all the first time through the Mets’ lineup.
Why was poor 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.
Had Riggleman not spoken up, the incorrect order would have stayed in place the entire game. And the umpires are not allowed to intervene, even if they notice a mistake. As Rule 6.03(b)(7) says: “The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter’s box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams.”
But because Riggleman did, the Mets reverted to the correct Nimmo-Cabrera-Flores-Bruce order the second time through the lineup. So Cabrera batted behind Flores in the first, but ahead of him in the third.
Batting out of order occurs from time to time, even at the major league level. Retrosheet collected a long list of such errors, once every few years dating to 1881, including in the 1925 World Series.
In 2016, Ryan Braun hit a single in the wrong spot in the order for the Brewers against the Nationals. As in Wednesday’s incident, the next man up, Jonathan Lucroy, was the one called out.