ATLANTA - Everything was moving along nicely. The Nationals had just scored a run in the top of the eighth, cutting the Braves’ lead to 3-2. They weren’t necessarily going to complete the comeback and win the game, but neither were they going to incite mass chaos on the field that led to an eight-minute delay ...
Er, maybe they were.
What transpired between the time R.A. Dickey recorded the final out of the top of the eighth and the time Sammy Solís threw his first pitch of the bottom of the eighth could only be described as utter confusion. It included six changes to the Nationals lineup, the insertion and then removal of another player, at least three separate conferences between the full umpiring crew and at least one of the two managers, and a lot of erasing or crossing out of names in everyone’s scorebooks.
So since everyone these days seems to be asking the question “What happened?” we might as well try to explain this one as well...
The key point to begin with is this: Dusty Baker planned to make wholesale changes to his lineup once Tanner Roark’s start was over. He figured that might come after the sixth inning, but Roark was efficient enough to go seven. So that meant the changes wouldn’t come until the middle of the eighth.
During the top of the eighth, Matt Wieters sent a two-out RBI single to left. Rafael Bautista emerged from the dugout to pinch-run for the starting catcher, though it turns out that wasn’t the original plan.
“We had a miscommunication,” Baker said. “Bautista wasn’t supposed to run in that inning.”
Wilmer Difo then pinch-hit for Roark, sending a fly ball to left for the final out of the inning. At which point the backups all jogged onto the field and Solís jogged in from the bullpen.
Difo stayed in the game to replace Trea Turner at shortstop. Jose Lobaton took over for Wieters behind the plate. Adrián Sanchez replaced Daniel Murphy at second base. Adam Lind supplanted Ryan Zimmerman at first base. Andrew Stevenson became the new left fielder, subbing out Howie Kendrick. And Victor Robles went out to center field, with Michael A. Taylor out of the game.
Baker came onto the field to run through all the changes with plate umpire Nic Lentz, at which point things got confusing.
Difo was told he had to return to the dugout, with Turner going back to shortstop. Robles was pulled from center field, with Bautista replacing him. Braves manager Brian Snitker came onto the field twice to check with Lentz, who eventually called over his entire crew to confer. Baker came back onto the field, as well, to get an explanation.
“They just weren’t telling me anything,” Snitker told reporters. “I’m yelling at the umpire wondering where they were (batting) because I noticed there was a whole new team out there.”
So where did everything go wrong? On the mound, because Solís got there and began his warmups before Baker could finish detailing the lineup changes, include the double-switch that was supposed to keep Difo batting ninth and move the pitcher’s spot to the leadoff position.
Turns out that’s against the rules.
“Once Sammy Solís took the mound, once he engaged on the mound, he was in that ninth spot,” Baker said. “That’s what kind of screwed it up. It wasn’t his fault. It was our fault for miscommunicating with the players, because Sammy certainly didn’t know since he was coming out of the bullpen.”
With Solís now required to bat ninth, Difo was required to exit the game. Which meant Turner had to remain at shortstop.
“They said the pitcher was in the nine-hole,” Snitker said. “And I was thinking: ‘Well, the kid who just hit ninth is playing short.’ But they hadn’t told him. So once (Solís) toes the rubber, he’s got to hit ninth.”
The whole process took eight minutes, which was more time than many of the half-innings in this ballgame lasting 2 hours, 18 minutes required.
“September baseball can be a little interesting sometimes,” Wieters said.
That’s one way to put it.