Continuing the list of baseball’s greatest plays …
Forget the home run leader of the league. The home run has become overrated in the last decade. Let’s see Miguel Cabrera turn his double into a triple. A home run is over before you know it. The entire field is moving during a triple. The triple is the longest play in baseball and from the moment the bat connects to the runner sliding into third, it’s filled with excitement and the questions that run through the fans’ minds are endless.
Is he fast enough to get to third? Will he go on his own will or take the advice of the third-base coach? Is the ball deep enough? How good is the outfielder’s arm? How good is the cut-off man’s arm? Why wasn’t he running hard the first 45 feet to first base? Will that hinder his chances? Will the throw be accurate? Will he slide head first or feet first?
Even more rare than the triple is the stand-up triple. In other words, there’s almost always suspense with the triple. I was happy to see the spacious outfield of the Mets’ Citi Field. The first thing many think is the lack of home runs it will produce. The first thing I think of is the increased number of triples. My kudos also go to the architects behind Comerica Park in Detroit.
Favorite triple: August 30, 2009. There was a pretty good chance it would be my last game at the Metrodome. There was an even better chance I would not see backup catcher Mike Redmond get a triple. Both would prove to be wrong. Redmond had been in the big leagues since 1998 and up until the fourth inning that summer day, he had two career triples. His line drive went into the left-center field gap. As the outfielder threw the ball in I could see Redmond rounding second and I could only smile while thinking, Oh no. If he would have been thrown out at third, it would have been worth it to see his effort. I had seats in the lower deck just beyond third base, so my vantage point was perfect. I think the Twins’ backup catcher set the major league record for slowest time from second to third base. If the throw hadn’t been off to third baseman Michael Young, he would have been out. Redmond slid head first into third base, pointed to his ecstatic teammates in the third-base dugout and screamed, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Me too, Mike, me too.
Inside-the-park home run
It’s the only thing more exciting and lasting longer than the triple, but it’s as rare as a day without politicians fighting. It’s as rare as a Curt Flood error. According to baseball-reference.com, of the 5,042 home runs hit in the big leagues in 2009, nine of those were inside-the-park home runs. Not only does it take blinding speed by the runner, but it almost always takes a mistake, and not an official error, by an outfielder.
Favorite inside-the-park home run: Not only is it my favorite I’ve personally seen, it’s the only one. Since it happened in 1986, I had doubts my memory was correct. Thanks to baseball-reference.com, I was able to clarify that I was correct. Most know of Ron Washington as the manager for the Texas Rangers. I still see him wearing that very-eighties Twins’ uniform with a huge afro sticking out the sides of his helmet. I can remember the chaos in the stands as Washington rounded third base. I remember my dad telling me, “That was an inside-the-park home run!” At the age of eight I thought, “Inside the park? This isn’t a park.” Even at eight years old I knew the Metrodome was a dump.
3-2-3 double play (first base – home – first)
The bases are loaded with only one out and things aren’t looking good for your team. But wait! There’s a sharp single to the first baseman who throws it home for the force out (and the guarantee no one will score on that play) and the catcher throws back to the first baseman to complete the double play. It’s a very rare play as the bases need to be loaded for it to happen and it takes both quick fielders and slow base runners. You know that predictable scene in every bad action flick when the coward finally gets some courage and shoots the bad guy in the back moments before he’s about to kill off the main character? It’s the moment when it looks like everything’s going to go bad for the good guys but then turns around at the last second. That’s the 3-2-3 double play.
Favorite 3-2-3 double play: I’ll admit, I can’t think of a lot of examples, but the reason I put this on the list is because the 3-2-3 double play is responsible for one of the five most exciting plays I’ve ever witnessed. At the age of 13 on October 27, 1991, because of stress, I’m pretty sure I lost one year of my life solely based on the top of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. With runners on second and third with no out, Jack Morris was able to get a weak groundout to Kent Hrbek at first base without any runners advancing. Manager Tom Kelly came to the mound to ask Morris if they should intentionally walk David Justice to face Sid Bream. Morris was worried his manager wanted to take him out. Morris later said in a documentary on the series, “I just stood there like, I’m going to kill you if you take me out.” They put Justice on first to bring up one of the slowest men in the game, Bream. Bream hit a sharp grounder to Hrbek who threw to Harper to get Lonnie Smith going home. Harper returned the throw to Hrbek to get Bream. Televsion announced Jack Buck summed up the excitement of the play well. “The play is to home … out there! … out there!”
Hitter intentionally beaned
A great deal of hypocrisy needs to be delivered from my keyboard for this play as I consider myself a left-wing liberal who does not believe in violence to solves issues. At the same time, I can’t help but get excited when a batter is beaned. Brushbacks and beanings can be a great way to police the action without the help of rules or umpires if the two teams can handle the situation in a mature and calm manner, but this is rarely the case. Tempers flare, dugouts and bullpens empty and the possibility of a brawl is real. Brawls are rarely good, but some tense words and threats are great entertainment.
A pitcher who is not afraid to intimidate a batter by pitching inside is a beautiful thing. A fastball fanning the air before a batter’s chest says, This is my plate and my game. Don’t get comfortable. The rare batter will not be intimidated by a 94-mph heater swishing by his knuckles, but most will hold onto that fear during the rest of the at bat. When a player is hit, and it’s obviously done with a purpose, it can turn a quiet baseball game at the park into a debate contest with the threat of 34-ounce bats, baseballs, helmets and fists as the sharp counterpoints as managers strategize like war generals: deciding who and when to strike back. A beaning could create a new rivalry for years to come or it can just tell the other team, Now we’re even: let’s play ball.
Favorite beaning: Torii Hunter, Twins fans miss you and will never forget you. Even if you never robbed a home run or knocked in one run for us, you did what every batter wants to do after being beaned, but held back from: you picked up the ball and beaned the pitcher right back. Minnesota was in an always-tense game on the south side of Chicago when Hunter lost his temper after getting hit with a pitch and returned the favor to the White Sox hurler. Hunter later apologized for his outbreak, but that didn’t stop fellow major leaguers from congratulating him for doing what they all wished they had the guts to do.
Play at the plate
Much like the triple, a hundred questions run through fans’ minds when a player is running those last 90 feet from third to home base. The throw from a fielder and the runner are on a collision course and rarely does the fan have a good enough vantage point to decipher if the runner is safe or out. We collectively hold our breath as the runner hits the dirt while the catcher fields the throw and turns to the runner. A cloud of dirt and dust obscure the action and all the fan can do is turn to the ump watching it all happen a few steps away and hope he spreads his arms apart instead of driving on arm down toward the runner like he has a hammer and the runner is the nail. Fans will boo if the call doesn’t got their way, but it’s only out of disappointment. At our position we can only take the ump’s word for it.
Favorite play at the plate: Game 3 of the 1991 World Series in Atlanta. In the bottom of the fifth inning with no out and Lonnie Smith at second base, Terry Pendleton launched a double off the center field wall. Smith, thinking Kirby Puckett was going to catch it, tagged up at second. The ball was over Puckett’s head (which didn’t happen often) and Smith hit the turbo button determined to score. Charging around third, Twins catcher Brian Harper kneeled in his way. Harper picked up the short-hop throw and turned to see a face full of Smith. It was a clean hit, knocking Harper on his back, but the ball never moved from his glove – out No. 1.
Moments later Harper dived to tag out Pendleton after a wild pitch – out No. 2. Two spectacular plays at the plate in a tied World Series game – it doesn’t get any better.