With a 5-4 lead, Hornell Senior High School’s baseball team was one strike away from a section championship on Saturday. It was the bottom of the seventh and final inning. Two outs. The tying run was at second, the winning run at first. With a 2-2 count, Hornell’s opponents from Palmyra-Macedon High School were down to their last strike.

And Hornell’s pitcher threw it, a curveball to seemingly end the game.

“Strike three!” broadcast announcer Bob Peisher shouted. “And he’s out! Hornell wins it!”

Hornell’s players swarmed the mound at the Batavia, New York, ballfield. Lifting their hands and leaping into the air, the players celebrated the end of the game and a sectional championship win that punched their ticket to regionals.

But there was a problem: The game wasn’t over, and they hadn’t won. What happened next would befuddle coaches, players and the announcer, who later called it “the most bizarre ending I’ve ever seen.” It would be written about in the local newspaper, air on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” serve as fodder for a Sports Illustrated article and become a teachable moment for players around the world, whether they play in Little League or the majors.


The rule at the heart of Hornell’s eventual undoing is called the “Dropped Third Strike” by the Society for American Baseball Research, better known as SABR, and carves out an exception to one of the best known, nearly ironclad laws of baseball: three strikes and you’re out. That is, unless the catcher drops the third strike while first base is open or there are two outs. In that case, the batter, despite having failed, becomes a runner. To get the out, the catcher must tag the runner or throw him out before he reaches first base, normally a routine task.

Hornell’s catcher realized he’d dropped the third strike and had to get the batter out, Hornell Coach Joe Flint told The Washington Post. That’s why he tried to tag the Palmyra-Macedon player. Having missed the tag, the catcher seemed like he was about to toss the baseball to first to secure the game’s final out, but Flint said he looked back and thought the umpire signaled that the batter was already out.

So he put the ball in his right pocket, walked toward the mound and hugged the pitcher, whose arms shot into the air in victory. Their teammates soon joined them.

What many of them didn’t notice was the batter and two other Pal-Mac players running the bases around their celebratory scrum. The lead base runner, who had been on second, scored as the pitcher fell to the grass near the mound, mobbed by his teammates. Meanwhile, a desperate fan tried to get their attention by repeatedly yelling, “There’s two outs!”

“Oh, wait a minute, Hornell’s got to pay attention,” Peisher told his audience.

Then, the second base runner scored, winning the game 6-5 for Pal-Mac. Moments later, Flint walked from the dugout to litigate the issue with the umpire. Meanwhile, Hornell’s players near the mound started to realize something was wrong and turned toward home.


“I’m not sure what’s going on here,” Peisher said.

Then, some 25 seconds after striking out, the batter planted his foot on home, turning a game-ending out into what amounted to an in-the-park home run, even though it technically didn’t count.

“So is this the way it’s going to end?” Peisher asked. “Pal-Mac’s going to win it?”

The umpiring crew gathered with the Pal-Mac players along the first-base line to tell them that, yes, the game was over, and they had won.

The players shot their arms into the air, fists clenched in victory. They screamed as they leaped on the mound to celebrate winning the sectional championship – right where their opponents had done the exact same thing 64 seconds earlier.

Flint said he had reminded his players in a pregame speech that they’d had a rocky season. They’d unexpectedly lost their coach at the beginning of the season when he took a job elsewhere. They struggled and lost games early on. They’d lost their first baseman to injury.


But they didn’t use those setbacks as excuses for failing, he’d told them. Instead, they exceeded expectations and made a solid run deep into the playoffs. Do that again, he’d said.

The speech took on new meaning after Saturday. Flint said he encouraged his players not to look around for someone else to blame for their loss.

“We have to own some of that,” he said.

On the bus after the game, Flint addressed his players again. Everybody would tell them they would forget about the loss, that time would heal the pain. Not true, Flint said. They would remember what happened for the rest of their lives, and it would probably bother them for the rest of their lives.

But, he added, that could end up being a good thing.

“Sometimes, the worst days in life teach you the best lessons.”

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