Umpire's flub lets batter walk on 3 balls

San Diego centre-fielder Cameron Maybin gets a rare kind of free ride to first base in a Padres' game against the Seattle Mariners, after an umpiring mistake let the right-handed hitter draw a bizarre walk on a 2-2 pitch.
Cameron Maybin of the San Diego Padres, who got on base by drawing a rare three-ball walk, scores the winning run in the fifth inning Saturday against the Seattle Mariners. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

San Diego centre-fielder Cameron Maybin got a rare kind of free ride to first base in the Padres' game against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. An umpiring mistake let the right-handed hitter draw a bizarre walk on a 2-2 pitch, prompting many in baseball to wonder: Can't anyone here count?

The whiff on Maybin's shortened walk, which led to the only run of the Padres' 1-0 win, wasn't limited to the scoreboard operator or home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. No one in the Seattle dugout or on the field complained that Maybin was trotting down to first one pitch too soon.

Umpire Phil Cuzzi thought he had missed entering a pitch on his hand-held counter. ((Ray Stubblebine/Reuters))

Seattle manager Eric Wedge took it as far as calling a team meeting Sunday morning in part to apologize for missing the wrong count.

"I'm the captain of this ship and something like that cannot happen. That falls on me. I should have trusted my instincts with what I felt it was, but I didn't and that's my fault," Wedge said. "I preach to these guys about being accountable, and I sure as hell need to be accountable for that yesterday."

Though such mistakes have occurred in the majors, they're very rare.

With one out in the fifth inning, Maybin fell behind 0-2 against Seattle starter Doug Fister.

Maybin then fouled off a pitch before Fister missed to make the count 1-2. Maybin fouled off another before Fister missed with a curveball in the dirt. The count both in the stadium and on the television broadcast showed 3-2, and the next pitch missed high with Maybin walking to first base and no one making an argument to Cuzzi.

The at-bat was reviewed on video by official scorer Dan Peterson, and it was determined the high fastball should have only been ball three. Maybin later scored the only run when Alberto Gonzalez's one-hopper deep in the hole glanced off the glove of shortstop Brendan Ryan and into left field for a hit.

"I watched it after the game. I don't even remember fouling off one of the pitches," Maybin said Sunday morning.

"But I guarantee you from here on out," Maybin continued, "somebody in the dugout will be keeping track on both sides."

Umpire thought he miscounted

Umpiring crew chief Tom Hallion said after Saturday's game that Cuzzi was using a pitch indicator and had the count at 2-2. When Maybin headed to first with no argument and the scoreboard showing the count already at 3-2, Cuzzi figured he just missed a pitch.

It's customary for plate umpires to keep track of the count with a hand-held clicker that's part of their standard equipment.

Wedge believed the same, thinking he'd just missed a pitch with his head down as Fister works very quickly on the mound.

"You have to follow the game, which I think we do as well as anybody. But it's just such a rarity to the point where I've never seen it before," Wedge said. "I think we've definitely become too dependent on the scoreboard, I'll say that much."

It was the second time recently a mistake was made on ball four. Last weekend in Texas, there was a related mistake when Nelson Cruz of the Rangers took ball four on a 3-2 pitch. But no one seemed to realize it was ball four, so he stayed in the box and struck out on the next pitch.

It became a moot point in the Rangers' 14-5 loss to the New York Mets. But Maybin's gift was magnified because it led to the lone run.