Friday, May 16, 2008

One of those sports related posts

Earlier this week Asdrúbal Cabrera turned an unassisted triple play in the Indians game. That’s when a player records all three outs of an inning on one play without the help of any other player (an assist). Cabrera’s was a text book example. The runners on first and second were going with the pitch. The batter hit a sharp line drive up the middle. Cabrera made a great catch (1 out) stepped on second to force the lead runner (2 out) and tagged the runner who had been on first (3 out) now standing helplessly at second.

This is the rarest and most anticlimactic feat in baseball. There’s no build up to it. No one’s watching the game thinking “oh, this is a prime spot for an unassisted triple play”. And it’s over in seconds.

A four homer game (where one player hits four homers) is the next most rare. Ok, it’s actually the rarest in modern baseball history, but if you count the 2 four homer games prior to 1900 it’s the second most rare. (13 post 1900, 15 all time. 14 unassisted triple plays all time and all since 1900.) A four homer game has a fair amount of build up and anticipation. Once a batter has three homers in a game, every other time they come up to the plate you know you have a shot at witnessing history.

The third rarest feat in the “triple crown” of rarities is a perfect game (where a pitcher retires all 27 batters he faces with none reaching base). There have been 17 perfect games with several notable near misses. (Milt Pappas went 8 and 2/3 before giving up a questionable walk. Pedro Martinez pitched 9 perfect innings before giving up a double in the 10th. Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings in 1959 before allowing a baserunner on an error.)

A perfect game has the most build up and is the most heart-attack inducing. A perfect game hasn’t happened, until it’s over. Until then, every pitch to every hitter carries with it the potential of ending it.

A four homer game is the most singular effort, meaning a highly skilled hitter gets good pitches and makes the most of them. A perfect game, while an amazing feat for the pitcher, relies heavily on the fielders. A pitcher has no control over where a ball goes once it’s hit. An unassisted triple play is blind luck. There’s very little skill involved. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Which is why I find them so interesting. The only triple play of any kind turned in a World Series was an unassisted one turned in 1920 (pictured). (The only no-hitter in post-season play was Don Larson’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.) There were 6 unassisted triple plays in the 1920’s including ones on back-to-back days in 1927. Then 65 years passed with only 1. There have been 4 since 2000.

Completely random.

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