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Now For Something Completely Different: Once-in-a-Lifetime Plays Add to Baseball Fun
There are probably more bizarre plays in baseball than any other sport. There are just so many situations over so many years that you’re bound to see something at some point that you’ve never seen before.
The most bizarre play I ever heard about was told by Buck Showalter that happened to his team while managing in the minor leagues – his team managed to hit into a triple play without any fielder touching the ball. That’s a head scratcher. I’ll let you try to figure it out and provide the answer at the end of this blog. The key things to remember: The team had runners on first and second, the ball was hit and no fielder touched it.
An Unusual Scoring Play
The most bizarre play I ever witnessed in person was Carl Yastrzemski scoring from first base on a strikeout. This happened at old Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side in 1977. The White Sox were leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the sixth inning when Yaz drew a one-out walk. White Sox pitcher Francisco Barrios fanned Carlton Fisk for the second out, bringing first baseman George “Boomer” Scott to the plate.
Scott, for those of you who don’t remember, was a burly power-hitter who had led the American League with 36 homers and 109 RBIs for Milwaukee in 1975. He was one of those players who understood that not only do chicks dig the long ball, but also that teams pay a lot more money to those who can hit the long ball.
Because of that Scott had geared his swing for homers, especially at Fenway Park where a long pop-up could reach the Green Monster. My brothers and I imitated him by swinging straight up and down as hard as we could. You could have placed a china tea set on a table directly in front of home plate and chances are Scott’s swing would never hit it.
The Run-Scoring Strikeout
So with two outs and Yaz on first, Scott was naturally swinging for the fences. And missing. He swung and missed badly at strike three, a pitch that bounced in the dirt in front of the plate. But the ball must have struck catcher Jim Essian’s shinguard, because it rebounded in front of the plate down the first base line.
Scott dug for first but this was an easy play. Essian pounced on the ball, scooped it up and fired it to first. A perfect throw.
Except that for some reason first baseman Jim Spencer was charging in. I don’t know if he thought Scott had hit the ball, or if it was an involuntary reaction to seeing a ball head his direction. But because of it, the catcher’s throw arced over Spencer’s head.
This still wouldn’t have been so bad except that ball hit the back edge of the base and caromed down the rightfield line.
Now another problem came into play for the White Sox. Because Scott was a dead-pull hitter, the outfielders had swung around to left. Rightfielder Richie Zisk had set up nearly in centerfield, meaning he had an excessively long run to the line to retrieve the errant throw.
By the time Zisk finally had the ball in hand, Yaz – almost 38 years old and hardly a speedster – had motored all the way around the bases and scored. Scott, who at age 33 had lost what little speed he had, reached third.
So, just to make things clear, on a strikeout that should have been the third out, the Red Sox scored the tying run and got a runner to third. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen. Barrios ended any further damage by getting Butch Hobson to fly out.
Later in the game, Rice singled and then took off on a steal of second base. But as he ran, Barrios uncorked another wild pitch, allowing Rice to continue to third. Yaz then hit a sacrifice fly for what proved to be the winning run.
Triple Play Answer
Now back to Buck Showalter’s bizarre triple play. Here’s what happened: The runners on first and second were off with the pitch on a hit-and-run. The batter hit the ball but it was sky-high pop-up toward the shortstop. Pop-up on the infield with runners on first and second, that’s the infield fly rule and the batter is automatically out. Out No. 1. But remember that the ball is still in play and runners can advance at their own risk.
The runner who had been on second recognized that the ball had been popped up, hit the brakes and reversed direction. The runner who had been on first, though, kept steaming ahead with his head down and ran right past the other runner. A runner is out when he passes a runner ahead of him. So out No. 2.
Gravity being what it is, the pop-up eventually had to come down. And it did, just as the runner who had been on second ran under it on his way back to second. The ball plunked him on the shoulder, keeping the fielder from catching it. A runner who is hit by a batted ball before the fielder can field it is out for interference. And that’s out No. 3. A triple play without a fielder involved.
Showalter swears the story is true and is also why he will never ever again call for a hit-and-run with two runners on base.
Tell Me Your Story
So, what’s the most bizarre play you’ve ever witnessed in person? Tell me about it in the comments section. I love hearing people’s baseball stories.