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When a double isn't a double at all


So a lot of interesting things happened over the weekend. If I worked seven days a week like some guys, I would have written about all of them already. But instead I've dialed things back to five or six days, which is great for my social life but plays hell with my Sunday nights and Monday mornings. You just don't know the pain of leaving a good story unwritten about. How will the world survive without my incisive commentary about every little thing?*

* he wondered, at least half-seriously

But I gotta pick and choose, and now I choose that time Saturday when Bruce Bochy didn't know who was batting third for the Giants:

In recent weeks, every time the Giants plate a run, it's been as if a minor miracle occurred. They can't exactly give back runs when they do score, but that's what happened in the first inning of Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Dodgers.

In the bottom of the first, Buster Posey stepped to the plate as the club's third hitter. He rifled an RBI double to the right-field corner, momentarily giving San Francisco a 1-0 advantage.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly stepped onto the field and told the umpires that Posey was actually listed fourth in the Giants' lineup and that Pablo Sandoval should have hit third.

Because of the Giants' mistake, Gregor Blanco -- who had scored on Posey's double -- returned to the bases, Sandoval was charged with a groundout to Dodgers catcher Tim Federowicz and Posey returned to the plate, where he flied out to right to end the inning.

Before we go any farther, I'll mention that the Giants did wind up winning the game. So losing that run didn't actually hurt them at all. But can you read that without saying, "Huh? Posey got to bat twice in a row? And Panda got charged with a groundout to the catcher without actually batting at all?"

Well, yes. A thousand yesses. Baseball's got a lot of weird rules, but this is one of the weirdest. And like even the weirdest of baseball's rules, this one's got a certain logic. Posey has to bat again because ... Well, because when things become out of order -- both figuratively and (in this case) literally -- you have to get things back into order as soon as possible. So if Posey bats third when he's supposed to bat fourth, you can't just let Sandoval bat fourth if it's been established that he shouldn't be batting fourth. You've got restore order, and in this case restoring means Buster Posey, No. 4 hitter.

Now, that bit about Panda getting charged with an at-bat, and a grounder of sorts, no less, seems strange but that makes sense, too. Actually, it's not really a groundout. It's just an unassisted out. The official scoring doesn't distinguish between an unassisted groundout and a pop-up. Both are simply scored as "2"; the catcher recorded the out without any help.

But why does the catcher get credit for doing nothing? Because everything has to balance out. If there are 27 outs, someone has to get credit for all 27 of them. When a batter strikes out, the catcher gets credit for an out; or, technically speaking, a putout. If a ground ball hits a baserunner, he's out and the nearest fielder gets credit for a putout. If the Infield Fly Rule is declared but nobody actually catches the ball, the official scorer is supposed to credit the nearest fielder with a putout. Everything has to balance out. Which very occasionally leads to a fielder getting credit for doing something when he didn't do anything at all except stand in the right place at the right time. Weird, yes. But a small price to pay for balance in the universe.

This doesn't happen often, but of course it does happen. In fact, in the old days it happened a lot; our friends at Retrosheet count these sorts of things, and they've counted six instances in 1923 alone. A couple of years later, it actually happened in the World Series. In many cases, though, the opposing team either didn't notice, or did notice but kept mum for practical reasons. Because someone has to say something; the umpires, even if they know someone's batting out of order, aren't supposed to talk to either team about the lineup.

Of course, it's always someone's mistake, right? Usually the manager's? Unless it's not. Paul Richards, who managed the White Sox and the Orioles in the 1950s and early '60s, played around with the rules as much as anyone, at least until Earl Weaver came along. Which brings us this great story about Richards, from Rich Marazzi's book, The Rules and Lore of Baseball:

Oriole Manager Paul Richards pulled a reversal of the rule by instructing Jerry Adair to purposely bat out of turn in 1960 in a game against Detroit.

In the eighth inning, Richards let Adair bat when it was pitcher Gordon Jones' turn to bat. When Adair hit a two-run single, Detroit Manager Jimmy Dykes brought the mistake to the umpire's attention.

"Guess I might as well admit," said Richards, "I purposely had Adair bat out of turn. I was hoping to the count would get to 3-and-0, and then I could send up Jones to get a walk. I didn't have another pitcher hot, so I didn't want to take out Jones."

In this case Jones was out, and Adair, who normally followed Jones in the order, batted again in his normal spot.

If you want to force a weak hitter to get ahead of the pitcher, this is a pretty good trick.

Well, yeah ... But it works only if the other manager's dumb enough to say anything during the plate appearance. What he should do is exactly what Dykes did: See what happens, then decided whether or not to say something.

Well, what Dykes supposedly did. Basically none of the details of this story check out. In 1960, Gordon Jones batted only five times. Two of those times came in one game, and he hit safely in both at-bats. That was against the Tigers, but (again) he wasn't out even once, plus Adair didn't play in that game. None of Jones' other at-bats in '60 came against the Tigers, and Adair didn't play in any of those games, either. Dykes managed the Tigers in just two seasons, 1959 and '60. But Gordon Jones didn't pitch for the Orioles in 1959. Oh, and Retrosheet's list doesn't include a single instance of a Richards-managed team batting out of order.

That quote had to come from somewhere, though. Maybe spring training? Either way, it's a hell of a story.

Anyway, this doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to, but modern-day managers are hardly immune. It happened three times in 1989, and it's now happened 10 times in this century.

So what happened Saturday? Near as I can tell, Bochy made out his lineup the old-fashioned way, then gave that to a Giants employee (who has remained nameless) who punched the lineup into some computer doohicky and things went downhill from there. I'm sure that that particular mistake won't happen again, to the Giants anyway. But we'll see it again, somehow. No system is fool-proof.