Reminiscence of a Triple Play

The magician pulls one out of the bag to complete the triple play. - Al Bello

The beauty of baseball portrayed in the craziness of a 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play

Sometimes fortune smiles back at you when you least expect it. I was offered the opportunity to join a friend at the ballgame on Friday earlier in the week and, despite the very wet and cold weather that day, I wasn't going to bail out on him. However, I did get caught in a downpour earlier, which left my sneakers fairly wet by game time. I desperately tried to air them out with a fan before catching the subway to the stadium. Sensing impending trouble for my feet on a cool night, I tried slipping plastic liners over my socks to protect them from the moisture. It actually worked for a while, but eventually my feet were feeling like ice blocks as the moisture sucked the warmth from my toes.

Suffice it to say, I was having visions of a warm bucket of water with my feet placed squarely inside and the rest of me wrapped in a snuggie on the couch like this guy. Okay, maybe I embellished that last part, but I might have been getting a little delirious at the time, which that guy’s expression succinctly portrays. I was cold enough to actually fork it over for a hot chocolate at the stadium. To my surprise it only cost four dollars instead of my expected five. So in some depressing way it felt passable, given my condition. If I wasn’t writing this down, though, then I doubt I’d ever remember those facts, given the 13 seconds of history that played out in the top of the eighth inning.

You’ve probably read by now all of the factoids regarding this triple play. First triple play turned by the Yankees in New York since 1968. It was only the second one turned by the Yankees in 45 years, both with CC Sabathia on the mound. It also was the only 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play turned in the entire history of the major leagues, but I’ve failed to see any document properly give those 13 seconds their full due. Watching it unfold displayed all of the crazy amazement that can make this game both unique and so much fun. But to be fair, baseball has a pace that is not for everyone. Most of the moments of import are split-second events. Players have to make decisions to act without reflection, and any hesitation usually spells doom.

However, in these 13 seconds of baseball, we had multiple events with many decisions (some pretty sketchy at best), and yet it all resulted in this glorious relief that I won’t ever forget. If you have ever been in a car accident, then you may have experienced that sensation when time seems to slow down as you calculate many possible actions and potential outcomes. You experience the power of your conceptual ability in that fraction of a second and the realization of how little you actually use during your normal course of life. Here is my stream of consciousness of those 13 seconds.

To set the stage, it is the top of the eighth inning, and the Yankees have just taken a 5-2 lead thanks to a bases-clearing Adam Jones error in the bottom of the seventh. The speedy Alexi Casilla reached on an infield single, which was followed by a single to left by Nick Markakis. Manny Machado stepped to the plate, having already driven in Casilla in the third inning. Worst of all, Adam Jones stood in the on-deck circle looking hungry for an opportunity to make up for dropping that fly ball in the previous inning.

- .01 seconds. Machado hits sinking line drive towards Robinson Cano just right of second base.

That’s a double play ball. Wait, did Cano catch that? No, short hop. Wow he’s fast with the flip. Ridiculously smooth.

- .02 seconds. Cano short hops the ball and quickly flips to Jayson Nix, who steps on second base. Nick Markakis is out #1. Nix turns to his right and throws to Kevin Youkilis at third base.

There’s one out. Wait, what is Nix doing? Why is he going to third? Just make sure you get two outs! It’s the eighth inning with a three run lead! Take two outs with a runner on third; that’s the safe play. Ahhh!!!

- .03-.05 seconds. Casilla stops and takes two steps back towards second. Youkilis throws the ball back to Nix.

Ok, they’ve got him pinned. Nix realized Casilla had to hold up to make sure Cano didn’t catch it in the air. I still probably would have just thrown it to first, but this is going to work out okay. What the heck is Youkilis doing?! He’s throwing the ball immediately back to Nix! When was the last time he practiced a run down? Why didn’t he push Casilla back to second and try to make only one throw for Nix to apply the tag? Man, Youkilis has had some issues tonight with his decision-making process.

- .06-.07 seconds. Nix catches the ball and starts to run Casilla towards third base. Nix throws the ball back to Youkilis.

Uggh, well Nix is doing what he can, but trying to push the runner towards the next base certainly isn’t textbook. I hope we don’t wind up with C.C. getting involved with this.

- .08-.09 seconds. Youkilis catches the ball, then runs four steps toward second base and tags Casilla. Casilla is out #2. Youkilis then immediately throws the ball sidearm, and with his body open, to first baseman Lyle Overbay as Machado is in-between first and second base.

There we go, got him! Wait, Machado’s caught in the middle. OMG this could be a triple play! Wait. No Wait!!! Come on Youkilis, again?!?!! Hold onto the ball and chase him back towards first base! How could you make the same mistake twice in the same series of plays?!?! Unbelievable. Machado is going to make it into second base, and almost completely eliminate the purpose of Nix going for the lead runner instead of just throwing it to first base. Someone has got to talk to Youkilis. Horrible decision-making process in these run downs.

- .10-.13 seconds. Machado breaks for second while Overbay receives the ball. Overbay quickly throws to Cano at second who receives and applies the tag on Machado for out #3.

What a throw! What a tag! There it is. I just saw a triple play!!! Did Overbay just throw a curve ball in there because he was right in the line of the base path? Yet somehow, the ball curved just over Machado’s shoulder down into Cano’s waiting glove to apply the tag. Wow, this is awesome, but how crazy was that play?

After watching the video, I realize that Cano deserves a lot more of the credit for the final out than Overbay’s throw did. Overbay was not in a good position to make a play for second base, but I can’t fault him for his positioning since Youkilis overreacted with his early throw in the first place. I’m still amazed at how many professional players still can’t get the proper reaction ingrained into their response to seeing a runner caught in-between bases. Hold the ball up in your hand and run straight at him preferably with an angle to force the runner to break back to a bag instead of forward. Still, that triple play never happens unless Youkilis makes those bad decisions, and the triple play never happens if Nix decides to make the safest choice and throw it to first for a double play.

I’m not going to comment on Machado’s decision to break for second base when he did, since there was so much happening that I never saw what he was doing, and I haven’t seen a replay of his response to the Casilla run down either. The one guy involved in the play that you can’t question at all was Cano. What I didn’t appreciate at the time, but can see clearly now in the replay, is that he made a fantastic play receiving the Overbay throw. First, he deked out Machado into thinking the throw was coming to the inside part of second base by positioning his body towards the infield. Overbay’s throw actually went to the outfield side of the bag. It never went over Machado’s shoulder because it never had to, thanks to Cano inducing him to move inside. The last second reach, catch and tag were classic Cano smooth. It was a fantastic play at the end of a crazy sequence that probably should get a lot more attention. It certainly is one of those Cano defensive moments that he doesn’t get enough credit for because he makes it look so easy.

It was just one play on a cold and wet April night, but it displayed so much of what I love about the game. Each player impacted the outcome in their decisions, but making a bad decision doesn’t necessarily correlate with just bad outcomes. There were so many variables at play in those 13 seconds, and the result was everything from thrilling to aggravating and back again. I was happy to get the ice blocks attached to my ankles home. Sometimes memories are ephemeral, just not this time.

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