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Yankee History: Double plays and seven very unfortunate performances

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On seven occasions, a Yankee has accomplished the ignominious feat of grounding into a double play three times in one game.

Side View of Yogi Berra Swinging Bat

The Yankees have hit into a lot of double plays this season. Having cracked the century mark not that long ago, who knows how many they’ve hit in between time of writing and whenever you’re reading this. However, there is one notable double play feat no Yankee has accomplished so far this season. (And no, this isn’t a challenge, Yankees.)

At least so far, no 2021 Yankee has hit into three double plays in the same game. So far, four Yankees have combined to hit into two DPs in a game five times, but no one’s reached three yet. Just because it hasn’t happened this year, doesn’t mean it’s never happened, though. Seven Yankees from throughout history have managed to pull off that ignominious feat.

Of the seven, we’ll give a slight break to the first to ever do it, Charlie Keller. In a game on July 14th, 1940, he grounded into three double plays and struck out once in an 0-for-4 day. However, the Yankees won the game 4-0 as Red Ruffing threw a complete game shutout. The double plays aren’t good, but it’s not as if they came close to being the difference between a win and a loss.

Three others’ three DP games came in wins. Eddie Robinson in 1955, Rich McKinney in 1972, and Juan Rivera in 2003 all did it Yankees’ victories, but all of those three guys were on thin ice. All of those wins came by two runs or fewer, so while they came close, they didn’t actually cost the Yankees a win. Although Rivera came pretty close, going 0-for-6 with a walk in a 17-inning game, finishing with a truly incredible -0.851 Win Percentage Added.

That leaves three games where a player did it in a losing effort.

Jim Leyritz did it in a game in 1990, but he somehow wasn’t even the biggest issue in that loss. Even if he had homered opposed to the double plays in those three at-bats, it would’ve only been enough of a swing to give the Yankees a one-run lead. This game was more on the bullpen, and specifically Lee Guetterman, who allowed five runs in 0.1 inning in a 13-6 loss to the Royals.

Of the two players that did it in close games, one belonged to a man who would arguably be on the Yankees’ Mount Rushmore.

In the fourth inning of a game against the Orioles on May 31st, 1960, Yogi Berra stepped to the plate with one out and Roger Maris on first. He grounded out to end that threat. Three innings later, Maris was again on first, this time right after he had singled home Mickey Mantle. Berra yet again grounded into a double play. This time, there was no outs in the inning, so the frame didn’t end after that. Bob Cerv followed Berra with a single, meaning if Berra had done almost anything else in his at-bat, the Yankees might’ve taken a lead.

Baltimore pushed across a run each in the seventh and eighth, meaning the Yankees were down two going into the top of the ninth. Mantle drew a walk to lead it off, and then moved to third on an error that allowed Maris to reach. With two on and nobody out, Berra once again erased Maris with a double play. This one did score a run, but almost any other result would’ve been better. Cerv grounded out after the game, leaving the Yankees one run short.

Thirty-two years later, another Yankee catcher had a similarly bad day.

On May 3rd, 1992, Matt Nokes grounded into three double plays as the Yankees lost 4-2 to the Twins. His came with a total of five runners on base across the three at-bats, as the first of the three came in the first inning with the bases loaded and one out.

On every game’s box score page on Baseball Reference, if that data is available, the top five most impactful plays from the game according to Win Percentage Added are listed. In this game, all three of Nokes’ DPs are in the top five, finishing first, second, and fifth.

Seven in nearly 120 years means it’s not likely that the list will be added to this year, but if any team will test it, it’s this one.