It doesn't happen often - only 39 times in the last six decades of Major League Baseball - and so when it does, it draws plenty of attention and leaves one dugout looking for a corner to go hide and the other giddy for having caught the opposition's mistake.
Really, are there many more embarrassing mistakes for a big league manager than seeing his team bat out of order?
It happened today at Nationals Park, and the reactions were exactly what you would expect. Craig Counsell and the Brewers were left with red faces. Dusty Baker and the Nationals couldn't help but smirk. And then everyone else in the park, fans and media alike, scrambled to look up the proper protocol for such an unusual situation.
"I screwed up," Counsell told reporters afterward. "It's not something that makes you feel very good, that's for sure. But the guys picked me up."
Indeed, the Brewers' mistake didn't cost them the game. They managed to make Martin Maldonado's solo homer off Max Scherzer hold up all day and escape the park with a 1-0 victory over the Nationals. And so the batting order mistake in the top of the first became a footnote, albeit one Counsell surely will be teased about for some time.
How did it happen? Well, Counsell intended for Ryan Braun to bat third, with Jonathan Lucroy fourth. But he also had scribbled out some backup lineups in case Braun wound up taking the day off after the Brewers got in late from St. Louis and had to make an unusually quick turnaround for the annual 11:05 a.m. Independence Day game in D.C.
Somehow, the lineup card that was exchanged at the plate just minutes before first pitch, however, had Braun and Lucroy flip-flopped. The Nationals recognized it immediately, then waited to see which player would step to the plate to bat third in the top of the first.
It turned out to be Braun, who proceeded to send a 2-1 pitch from Max Scherzer up the middle for a single. But then before Scherzer could throw a pitch to Lucroy, Baker emerged from the dugout with his lineup card in hand and approached plate umpire Cory Blaser to point out the problem.
"When Dusty came out there, the first thing you do is look," Counsell said. "And I knew I messed up."
Had Braun made an out, the Nationals likely would have let it slide and waited for another opportunity later in the game. But once Braun reached base, they decided to bring it to the umpire's attention, and after Blaser and his crew mates conferred, Braun was ruled out, the inning over.
The out, though, must be charged to the player listed third on the official lineup card. That was Lucroy, who suddenly was 0-for-1 in the game despite having never left the batter's box. Braun, meanwhile, got to bat again in the top of the second. He grounded out, leaving him officially 0-for-1 even though he did hit a single off Scherzer the previous inning.
"I kind of started laughing," Nationals center fielder Ben Revere said. "I actually have seen that before. Kind of like T-ball: Make sure you see the lineup before you go up there."
Said Baker: "These things happen sometimes."
Indeed they do, though not all that often. It last happened in 2013, when both the Giants and Rangers were guilty of batting out of order (San Francisco on July 6, Texas on Sept. 4), according to Retrosheet.
It also happened May 4, 1980, in a game between the Dodgers and Phillies that remains imprinted in Baker's mind to this day because of the role he played in a screw-up that actually paid off in the end.
Batting fifth for the Dodgers, Baker came up with two on and one out, then grounded into a fielder's choice. Turns out Ron Cey was listed fifth on the lineup card, Baker sixth, and Phillies manager Dallas Green correctly informed umpires of the mistake.
"I hit out of turn, because they had one lineup posted in the dugout and another lineup that was turned in," Baker said. "I figured that day I was hitting in front of Ron Cey, but in the lineup that was turned in they had Ron Cey hitting in front of me."
Following the proper protocol, umpires ruled Baker batted out of order, with Cey being called out on an unassisted play to the catcher. But that gave Baker another opportunity to bat, now with two on and two out.
And what happened next?
"He threw me the same pitch, and I hit it out of the ballpark," Baker said with a laugh.
Sure enough, Baker clobbered a three-run homer off Phillies pitcher Randy Lerch, prompting Dallas to throw a fit, get ejected and protest the game. That protest was denied, because the umpires handled the situation in correct fashion.
"I just had visions today of him," Baker said. "I was trying not to have (visions) of him hitting it out of the ballpark, like I had in my past."