The Rays listed Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria as the third baseman on the card given to the umpires before the start of the game. Longoria was supposed to be the designated hitter.
"Designated hitter has to be designated on the lineup card and he wasn't," umpire crew chief Tim McClelland said. "That was just a mis-write, so to speak. That's how we interpreted it."
Rays manager Joe Maddon, after Tampa Bay beat Cleveland 7-5, said he didn't notice the error when he signed the card and took the blame.
After going hitless in his first two at-bats, Sonnanstine had an RBI double to left during a five-run fourth that put Tampa Bay ahead 7-3.
"All the starting pitchers are trying to pay us off to make that mistake," Maddon said with a smile.
After the top of the first, in which Zobrist played third, the game was delayed 13 minutes as the umpires discussed the matter among themselves and individually with Maddon and Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. The umpires pulled the Indians off the field midway through the delay.
"They had two third basemen, so I just wanted to make sure that Zobrist was in the game playing third, and I pointed it out to them after the top half of the first," Wedge said.
The Rays lost their DH position due to the error, meaning Sonnanstine replaced Longoria in the third spot of the lineup.
"That was just awkward, to say the least," Longoria said. "It was definitely a little different day on the baseball field. I was laughing (when Sonnanstine doubled). It was great."
Sonnanstine became the first pitcher in the starting lineup of an AL home game since Ken Brett of the Chicago White Sox batted eighth on Sept. 23, 1976. The previous pitcher to pick up an RBI in an AL home game was Texas' John Wetteland on Aug. 16, 1997, at the New York Yankees.
"It was just excited about it," Sonnanstine said. "It's a little different."
Current Rays pitcher Matt Garza was last pitcher to hit in an AL home game, going hitless in two at-bats for the Twins during the second game of a July 6, 2007, doubleheader against the White Sox. That move was made due to an injury.
Longoria, available to come off the bench, entered the game at third with two outs in the sixth when reliever Grant Balfour replaced Sonnanstine. Longoria also took over the third position in the lineup, while Balfour replaced right fielder Gabe Kapler in the seventh spot.
Zobrist moved from third to right when Longoria came in.
"It was a wacky game," Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford said.
The Indians lost their DH on July 22, 1999, against Toronto when pitcher Charles Nagy hit seventh after manager Mike Hargrove listed Manny Ramirez as the DH and Alex Ramirez as the right fielder. After Manny Ramirez played the field in the first, it meant Alex Ramirez was removed from the game and the DH was lost.