Lindbergh: Down for the count: when players and umpires lose track of balls and strikes

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on May 8, 2018:

On June 13, 2013, umpire CB Bucknor prematurely punched out Oakland’s Seth Smith on a 2-1 pitch from the Yankees’ Adam Warren.

The overeager ump almost immediately realized his mistake, and Smith, who never made a move toward the dugout, received a stay of execution. Beneath his mask, an embarrassed Bucknor weathered a bombardment of boos and jeers from the 27,000-plus fans in the stands, but the hubbub soon died down. Smith grounded out on the next pitch, and Bucknor, already in his 11th inning of umpiring, was forced to stand behind the plate for seven more innings as the two teams played 18. The ump had done penance, and baseball’s rulebook had survived his assault.

Yet not quite three months later, in some strange cosmic coincidence, Yankees catcher Chris Stewart—the same man who had caught that 2-1 strike to Smith—effectively punched himself out on a 1-1 pitch from the Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen, marching back to the dugout after swinging and missing for strike two.


According to information from baseball-records repository Retrosheet, Stewart’s self-imposed K is actually the only known two-strike strikeout of anyone’s career. As far as the stats are concerned, Stewart’s misunderstanding was a one-time blemish on baseball’s otherwise-immaculate record of hitters avoiding strikeout self-sabotage. Nor are there any records of plate appearances with three or more strikes that didn’t result in a strikeout, although some of those records contain erroneous calls.

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Originally published: May 8, 2018. Last Updated: May 8, 2018.