Runners on first and second, nobody out. Most of the time, the defense is not usually a fan of what comes next. For the Yankees’ opponents this year, however, that exact scenario has been downright frightening. Inducing triple plays has somehow been one of the signature moves of the 2021 Yankees.
From June 3, 1968, to April 22, 2010, the Yankees failed to turn a single triple play; in the eleven years, one month, and 30 days since then, they have turned a league-high six — including three within 31 days, the shortest span in baseball history. Not all six are created equal, though. Let’s take a look back and see just how great an impact each one had on the final outcome of the game.
April 22, 2010: Alex Rodriguez to Robinson Canó to Nick Johnson
Win Probability Added: 8%
Thanks to a three-run home run in the first inning off the bat of Kurt Suzuki, CC Sabathia and the Yankees were already down 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum when the Athletics were threatening to blow the game open. A Daric Barton single to lead off the sixth and a walk to Ryan Sweeney put runners on first and second for Suzuki for the second time in the game. This time, Sabathia won the battle.
A soft groundball down the third base line put longtime third baseman Alex Rodriguez in a perfect position to use his athleticism to step on third base, fire a bullet to second, and kickstart a classic 5-4-3 triple play, stopping the potential rally in its tracks and keeping the Yankees in the ballgame. Unfortunately, however, the offense was unable to get going against Dallas Braden, Brad Ziegler, and 2015 Yankees Legend Andrew Bailey, as the Yankees snapped a six-game winning streak and fell to 11-4.
April 17, 2014: Yangervis Solarte to Brian Roberts to Scott Sizemore
Win Probability Added: 12%
Brian Roberts played 91 games for the Yankees, Yangervis Solarte only 75, and Scott Sizemore a measly six. Somehow, they managed to combine for baseball immortality.
With the Yankees up 4-0 in the bottom of the 2nd — thanks in part, amusingly, to a triple off Tampa Bay starter David Price by Roberts that scored Sizemore — Sabathia put himself in a jam by allowing a leadoff double to Evan Longoria and walking Wil Myers. Just one pitch to Sean Rodriguez, however, caused the entire jam to evaporate.
The Yankees would continue to hammer Price and the Rays’ bullpen, ending with a 10-2 victory. The game might have looked a lot different, however, if Tampa Bay had been able to capitalize in the bottom of the second.
April 12, 2013: Canó to Jayson Nix to Kevin Youkilis to Nix to Youkilis to Lyle Overbay to Canó
Win Probability Added: 16%
It was the bottom of the eighth in a 5-2 game, with Sabathia — he really does appear a lot in these scenarios, doesn’t he? — trying to squeeze out an extra inning and hand the ball directly to Mariano Rivera. That went sideways from the beginning, as the number nine hitter, Alexi Casilla, singled on a groundball through the hole on the left side. Nick Markakis then singled to left to put two men on for the fearsome Manny Machado.
Our first rundown-facilitated triple play began as what appeared destined off the bat to be a standard 4-6-3 double play. Because Casilla had originally begun to return to second, thinking the ball might be caught on a fly, shortstop Jayson Nix instead turned to nail him at third, sparking a rundown. After tagging Casilla out, the attentive Kevin Youkilis, in what feels like the only productive thing he ever did in pinstripes, caught Machado in no-man’s-land, as the Baltimore third baseman thought he could sneak his way into scoring position. Instead, he wound up as the third out of the inning, in one of the few triple plays where the guy who fielded the initial hit (Canó) wound up recording the final putout.
June 17, 2021: Michael King to DJ LeMahieu to Gleyber Torres to Gary Sánchez to Gio Urshela to Torres
Win Probability Added: 18%
Things did not look good early for Michael King in his most recent start, this past Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo. After walking Marcus Semien and allowing a single to Bo Bichette, a wild pitch put runners on second and third for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., arguably the best hitter in baseball so far this season. For the second straight inning, though, the Yankees escaped runners on second and third with nobody out unscathed.
What made this play possible was the fact that both Semien and Bichette’s initial reactions were to make for third, the former realizing that he would be out by a mile on the soft groundball to the pitcher, the latter thinking that Semien was going to try to score on the play. After recording the first out with a simple 1-3 groundout, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, and Gio Urshela worked together to get both runners hung up and moving in the general vicinity of third base. In the end, Urshela tagged out Semien, spun around, and made an athletic throw to nab Bichette trying to slide into the bag to record the second and third outs of the inning.
With the Blue Jays offense held scoreless in the first, King was able to settle down, and the Yankees went on to win 8-4.
May 21, 2021: Gio Urshela to Rougned Odor to Luke Voit
Win Probability Added: 34%
Thanks to seven shutout innings by Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees entered the top of the ninth tied at one against one of the best teams in the American League, the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox. In a tie game at home, the Yankees turned to closer Aroldis Chapman to preserve the tie.
That quickly looked like a mistake, as he walked Yermin Mercedes and allowed Leury García to reach base on an E1. In the end that was simply the prologue to one of the most exciting finishes of the season.
On a 1-1 pitch, rookie left fielder Andrew Vaughn bounced the ball down the third base line, where Urshela kicked off an inning-ending triple play that saved Chapman from a jam and kept the game tied. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees offense matched the defense’s energy, with three straight singles off the bats of Aaron Judge, Urshela, and Torres, that gave the Yankees a walk-off win.
June 20, 2021: Urshela to DJ LeMahieu to Chris Gittens
Win Probability Added: 43%
Yesterday, Chapman had absolutely nothing. After walking Jed Lowrie on five pitches, he walked Tony Kemp on four to put runners on first and second. The first pitch to Sean Murphy? Predictably, a ball.
I cannot overemphasize the extent to which Chapman had lost the strike zone. Of the 11 pitches he threw, only three were in the strike zone, two of which were on the edge of the zone.
The momentum was clearly swinging in the direction of the Oakland Athletics. But then, Murphy put the ball on the ground down the third base line, where Urshela was waiting.
Despite the fact that the game-ending triple play is one of the most exhilarating plays possible in a game of baseball, the Yankees made this look...routine. I guess, to some extent, it kind of has been — after all, the 2021 Yankees are now tied for the most triple plays in a season with three, and there’s still 91 games left! Even so, out of all three, yesterday’s was in a class all its own, as it was the third game-ending triple play in Yankees history and the first since 1911. What a way to close out a game and a series.
Editor’s Note: As a bonus, for your viewing pleasure, here’s a reel of all six Yankees triple plays mentioned above.