SPORTS DOCTOR- Charmless: Unassisted triple play no big deal
As a baseball fan, I dread the double play. Correction: as a Cubs fan, I fear it. Will Ronny Cedeno have true aim toward first, or will he throw wide into the dugout? Will Aramis Ramirez forget to drink his Rock Star and fall asleep three feet from third?
That's just defense. An opponent's turning a double play is a whole other story. There's nothing like the opulence of having no outs, even when the pitcher's on deck. Having no outs is a Saturday when the grass doesn't need cutting.
With the first out comes a distinct sense of discomfort. Are the clouds parting? Will I have to cut the grass anyway? The first out brings the knowledge that an easy double play will cut us off at the knees, and our only hope is an error or a miracle.
Having no outs usually provides a nice cushion for a team at bat, but it didn't Monday night.
There's some debate about when the first professional baseball game was played, but suffice to say it's taken 99 years to rack up 14 unassisted triple plays. Triple plays are scarce enough, but unassisted triple plays are as elusive as WMDs.
Just to get the idea, between 1927 and 1992, there was only one.
A catch, a step, and a tag: not too complicated. Any infielder with any sense could pull it off if the circumstances were right, but they're hardly ever right. The situation calls for two: a line drive or pop-up and an ideal fielding position.
Monday night, Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland's second baseman, made the catch, the step, and the tag. It wasn't pretty. The catch was par, the step was standard, and the tag came only because Toronto's Marco Scutaro stood two steps off the base looking for all the world as if he were waiting for a bus.
It was perhaps the most anticlimactic history-making play I've ever seen, especially since Cleveland went on to lose 3-0. Maybe that's why it hasn't gotten much fanfare.
Frankly, I don't think it deserves much. Second in rarity only to the elusive perfect game, the unassisted triple play is less about fielding than the runners themselves. A forced out is just that: forced. But getting tagged is little more than an embarrassment.
It's not surprising that there have been six unassisted triple plays in the past 12 years, after a 25-year dry spell. Many times I've watched in disgust as Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, and Carlos Beltran treat their every hit as if it were unplayable.
The hit, the stare, and the stroll: we've all seen it and wondered what "Charlie Hustle" Pete Rose, despite his flaws, must think of such ambivalence.
If, by some fluke, Ramirez didn't blast the ball out of the park and was awarded a ground-rule double, would his base-running skills be enough to beat a triple play, unassisted or not?
The bottom line is that in baseball, much like basketball, defense is under-appreciated and often under-utilized. Every night Baseball Tonight highlights "Web Gems," defensive plays that ESPN deems exceptional.
There was a time when diving for a deep hit to right field wasn't exceptional, when shortstops leapt for high line drives and catchers threw runners out with regularity.
There was a time when unassisted triple plays were truly something. Hitters didn't behave as if infielders were just so many hurdles in a steeplechase, and runners ran– oh, Lord, how they ran!
And as for Scutaro to be tagged while just standing there with his mouth wide open, well, he could have forced a chase. He could have embarrassed Cleveland instead of looking like a fish out of water.
The double play still scares me, but the unassisted triple does not. If a runner is blind enough, slow enough, and unobservant enough to get tagged, then he deserves it.
It's too bad Cleveland was playing Toronto. Wouldn't it have been great to see Manny get tagged out so easily? That would have been a Web Gem.