Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Triple Play

One of the rarest and most exciting plays in baseball is the triple play or TP. One just occurred Tuesday night, started by the Rays against the Yankees.

It was a very sweet play if you're on the defensive side of course. It went 5-4-3. It also went like lightening. Some complain that baseball is slow, but did you see that? Many plays in baseball seem routine because they occur so often. It’s not really true since the players have practiced continually to make them look easy. The TP is at the other end of the scale. It is very fast and has to have all the players involved on the same page to get it to work. Anyone not up to speed will spoil it.

Tuesday night the Rays pulled it off against the Yankees for the 687th time in professional baseball. That is, since 1876. Russell Martin hits a short chopper to third. Evan Longoria steps on third and sends the ball to Ben Zobrist on second, who whips it to Sean Rodiguez, at first. It was a beautifully executed play. To get the full effect watch it a few times. Please click on the link below to view.

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In 1973 Brooks Robinson, playing third base for the Orioles, started two 5-4-3 TPs. The first was on July 7 against the Athletics and again on September 20, against the Tigers. This is very rare in itself, but the most interesting fact is that Brooks Robinson is the only major leaguer to hit into four triple plays in his career.

On July 17, 1990, the Twins became the first and the only team in baseball history to turn two TPs in the same game. Playing against the Red Sox they turned two 5-4-3 TPs. Unfortunately, the Twins still lost the game 1-0.

There have been only two game ending unassisted TPs in baseball history. The first was the Tiger's Johnny Neun, in 1927, against the Indians who caught a line drive, tagged the runner and ran to second just ahead of the returning runner. The second one was against the Mets on August 23, 2009, when Eric Bruntlett, of the Phillies, caught a line drive, stepped on second and tagged the runner. So, one each, for the NL and the AL. Both of these feats are pretty spectacular.

The Jays have contributed to the mix as well. On April 22, 1978, the Jays turned their first TP against the White Sox, 1-3-6. To date, the Jays have had 3 TPs for and 6 against. The most spectacular was the unassisted TP against the Jays by Indian second baseman, Asdrubal Cabrera.

The set-up; Kevin Mench on second, Marco Scutaro on first and Lyle Overbay at bat. With the hit and run on, Cliff Lee pitches to Lyle Overbay, who hits it up the middle. Cabrera, with a diving catch (out one, Overbay) stands up on second (out two, Mench) then tag’s Scutaro for the third out. Post Script: We won't mention the famous triple play that got away from Kelly Gruber.

The most “usual” TP is 5-4-3 (79 times). The others in order are 6-4-3 (55) and 4-6-3 (43). The unassisted are with shortstops and second basemen. Only twice with first basemen, like Johnny Neun mentioned above, and Red Sox George Burns, in 1923.

The perfect game, four home runs in a game and the unassisted triple play are right up there with rare baseball feats. They all require timing and luck. You can see a perfect game coming and anticipate a fourth homer. An unassisted triple play is very fast and unpredictable. It’s the luck of the moment and fun to watch.

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