CINCINNATI – The Indians have had a tough week. On Wednesday, White Rod’s left-handed Carlos Rodon missed them at Guaranteed Rate Field. Chicago won 8-0 and it wasn’t that close.
On Saturday in Cincinnati, Eddie Rosario was on third base and Franmil Reyes was in first place with no outs in the eighth inning. Josh Naylor sent a line drive to catch Joey Votto first. Moving around the field, Reyes failed to return in time for the first time and was tagged by Votto. Meanwhile, Rosario sprinted home, thinking Naylor’s liner had popped off the floor. Votto tossed the diamond to third place, where Kyle Farmer stepped on the pocket to end the triple play.
An inning later, a routine two-out grounder on first base rolled through Naylor’s legs to start a chain of events that turned a 2-1 win into a 3-2 defeat for the Indians in 10 innings.
You want a bad stretch of baseball bad luck, there it is.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team not hit and victimized by a triple game in the same week operates under a new name and in a new city. On September 26, 1983, the Montreal Expos, now the Washington Nationals, were missed by Bob Forsch and the Cardinals in Busch Stadium II. The starting field player for the Expos that day was none other than Indian manager Terry Francona.
The Expos won 10-4 the next day, but in Famer’s fourth inning hall, Andre Dawson hit a triple play with loaded bases. Who was on the second base with nowhere to go? That would be Francona when the triple play played out with 4-6-3-4-5.
Anyone can join a triple play, be it Hall of Famers or journeymen. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, perhaps the best third baseman in history, holds the record for four triple games.
“I wouldn’t mind if someone wiped my record of four triples,” Robinson said frequently. “I just had the touch.”
When he didn’t meet them, he would help them turn them. Robinson, a 16-time gold glove winner, has been involved in three triple defense games for the Orioles.
The Indians have shot 32 triple games in their history. You have hit 27, with Naylors 3-3-5 being the newest.
There is symmetry in the triple play history of the Indians. They are the only three-player team who have played triple games without assistance. On the other hand, they have beaten three players in triple games with no support. They are a franchise that is three encapsulated.
On July 19, 1909, Neal Ball of the Naps, which changed its name to Indians in 1915, turned the first unsupported triple game in history. In the second inning at League Park, Boston had first and second runners when Amby McConnell sent a hit-and-run liner down the middle. Ball, playing second base, jumped at the ball and made the catch. He forced the runner into second place and marked the runner who came from first.
The Hall of Famer Cy Young was on the pitch that day. As Ball went to the dugout, Young said, according to a SABR profile on Ball, “Where are you going, Neal?” Ball replied, “That’s three outs.”
Sometimes the triple play can sneak up on you. Especially if it’s the first of its kind.
Playing triple without assistance could be the rarest performance in baseball. It only happened 15 times.
The most famous took place in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series between the Indians and Brooklyn Robins. Second Indian baseman Bill Wambsganss, with runners in first and second place, caught a line from Clarence Mitchell, stepped into second place, marking the runner who came from first. It was the first and only triple game in World Series history.
When you do something like this, it is with you forever.
“Funny thing, I’ve played in the big leagues for 13 years and the only thing anyone seems to remember is that I once played an unsupported triple game in a World Series,” Wambsganss told author Lawrence Ritter.
Certainly the most nonchalant unsupported triple play ever filmed belongs to the Indians’ second baseman, Asdrubal Cabrera. On May 12, 2008, the Indians played in Progressive Field against Toronto. In the second game of a double header, Toronto’s Kevin Mench and Marco Scutaro met consecutive singles to put the runners in first and second place. Lyle Overbay, while the runners are moving around the field, sends a liner to Cabrera that he caught with a dive. He stepped into second place and marked Scutaro.
As Cabrera ran off the field, he casually threw the triple play ball into the stands. When asked after the game why he didn’t keep his piece of history, Cabrera just shrugged and smiled.
The Indian players who faced unsupported triple players were Joe Azcue on July 30, 1968; right fielder Homer Summa on May 31, 1927; and first baseman Frank Brower on September 14, 1923.
Playing a triple play doesn’t necessarily mean losing. When Azcue scored three outs in one fell swoop against Washington shortstop Ron Hansen, the Indians won the game 10-1, with Sam McDowell pitching and Azcue catching.
The last triple game the Indians shot was on July 1, 2014 at Dodger Stadium. Some triple games are over in a second. This could have been timed with a sundial.
The Indians led 5-3 in the fourth inning, but the Dodgers had Dee Gordon in third and Yasiel Puig in first place. Adrian Gonzalez sent a fly ball to left fielder Michael Brantley, who threw Yan Gomes home when Gordon tried to score. Gordon was called, but Puig was trying to advance to second place when Gomes tossed Jason Kipnis. Puig was labeled safe, but Francona challenged the call.
After a long repetition, the call was cut off and Puig was called. Then Dodger manager Don Mattingly challenged the safe call home. It seemed like the debates and reviews would go on forever, so Brantley sat in left field for a pause.
“Where should I go?” he said.
Eventually the out call was maintained on the plate and the triple play was established.
There have been 723 triple games since 1876. May 15, 1913 was certainly the busiest time the Indians, then called Naps, were involved. Although the naps inning and base runners were unavailable, the boxing score shows that the Philadelphia A had to work on their rundowns in League Park that day. Here’s who handled the ball before three outs were recorded:
SS Jack Barry to C Ira Thomas to 3B Home Run Baker to P Byron Houck to SS Barry to 2B Eddie Collins to 3B Baker to SS Barry and finally to LF Rube Oldring. That would go into the scorebook as a curious 6-2-5-1-6-4-5-6-7.
While Brooks Robinson laments the fact that he has played four triple games in his career, he likely feels sympathy for 1962 catcher Sam Pignatano of the Mets. He played not just on a team that lost 120 games, but in In his last big league, Pignatano also played three times against the Cubs.
Hey, that’s the beauty of triple play. Be it good or bad, it stays with you forever.
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