Two interesting things happened at the end of the Reds-Mets game today. Well, really it was only one thing, but it told me two interesting things. In the top of the ninth inning, trailing 8-3, the eighth spot of the Reds order was due up, and Dave Ross, who had entered the game as part of a double-switch in the bottom of the sixth inning, came to bat. He flied out to right, and Corey Patterson, who had entered in a double-switch in the bottom of the eighth inning, stepped up to the plate.
That's when things got interesting. Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel hopped up on the bench to get the ump's attention. When Ross entered the game in the sixth, he was in the ninth spot;as is typical in a double-switch, the pitcher moved into the spot vacated by the catcher Ross was replacing, which was also the eighth spot. Patterson had hit for the pitcher, which meant he was hitting in the eighth spot.
So when Ross went to the plate to lead off the inning, he was batting out of order, and Manuel noticed it, while Dusty Baker, the Reds manager hadn't (neither, of course, had either Ross or Patterson). In Baker's defense, his bench coach Chris Speier had taken the day off, and it's Speier's job to track the batting order. Baker seemed visibly upset after the mistake was pointed out to him, and--all excuses aside--it's his job ultimately to ensure this doesn't happen.
Lesson #1: The Mets have a sharp coaching staff, while Dusty's head is clearly in the wrong place. Yes, two double-switches make a lineup confusing, but that neither he nor his players were paying enough attention to point out the mistake shows you that all is not well in Cincinnati. Even down five runs, someone on the bench or coaching staff should have noticed that something was awry in the batting order. If they'd noticed before the at-bat had finished--or even in between innings, as Ross was in the on-deck circle--there would have been no penalty, under MLB rules.
Which brings me to Lesson #2: Baseball Rules are Complicated. What ensued after this misstep in the batting order was a long conference among the umps and managers, with the umps informing both Baker and Willie Randolph that there were two outs in the inning: Ross' initial out, plus the out assessed for missing Patterson's spot in the order. Before Ross' second at-bat, the umps and all the Mets players flashed the "two outs" signs (only the scoreboard operator still showed one out). Ross quickly lined a single to left center, at which point Baker noticed that there were two outs indicated as Freel got ready to hit.
Cue another conference. I actually love these, as they almost always allow the umpires to get it right. In this case, it allowed me to grab my copy of The Baseball Field Guide, an awesome interpretive version of the arcane rulebook toted by umps and managers. It took me all of two minutes to determine that the player skipped (Patterson) in a batting order is out, and the next player in the order bats. In other words, there should only have been one out.
It took the umpires another five minutes to put their heads together and determine what I'd already figured out. Now, I'm a fairly involved and knowledgeable fan, but I'd never seen this before, so I wasn't sure of what to do. The umps on the field--who are supposed to know the game inside and out--didn't know what to do, and (evidently) neither did Baker (or at least he hadn't yet figured out that the umps were saying there were two outs in the game, although the situation had been explained to him before Ross came to bat again).
I would expect everyone involved, from umpires to coaches, to know these rules; batting out of order is not some utterly strange occurrence (like, say, a baseball hitting a bird in flight or some other oddball situation once featured in "So You Think You Know Baseball?" the column from Saturday Night Post reprinted in Baseball Digest). All of these guys should have known the proper punishment, and it's a further indictment of Baker that he wasn't aware of what to do.
I guess there's a third lesson to be learned, which is: Tune into a Baseball Game, and You'll Probably See Something You've Never Seen Before. I learned something, and I imagine so did Reds fans. I hope the Reds front office learned something, too.