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Analyzing A Rare, Unassisted Triple Play

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Analyzing A Rare, Unassisted Triple Play

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Analyzing A Rare, Unassisted Triple Play

Analyzing A Rare, Unassisted Triple Play

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At Citi Field on Sunday, the Phillies led the Mets by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. They turned that lead into a win with the help of an unassisted triple play by Philadelphia second baseman Eric Bruntlett. Jonah Keri of ESPN.com and author of Baseball Between the Numbers, says the feat is "even more rare than perfection."

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Yesterday afternoon at New York's Citi Field, a baseball rarity - not the fact that the New York Mets lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, that's all too common this season. It is how they lost this time. Bottom of the ninth, none out, Philadelphia second baseman Eric Bruntlett had already made an error and then failed to get anyone out on a hard-hit grounder up the middle that was scored an infield single. So the Mets had runners on first and second, down two runs. The potential winning run was at the plate in the person of Jeff Francoeur.

Unidentified Man: Two-two.

Unidentified Man: The runners go. Line drive caught by Bruntlett.

(Soundbite of cheers)

Unidentified Man: He makes the tag. It's a triple play, and the ball game is over. An unassisted triple play to end the ball game. Unbelievable.

SIEGEL: Or as the late Phil Rizzuto would have said, holy cow. How unbelievable was this? Well, joining us from Durham, New Hampshire, is baseball writer Jonah Keri, who is co-author and editor of "Baseball Between the Numbers."

Jonah Keri, how rare was that?

Mr. JONAH KERI (Author, "Baseball Between the Numbers"): Extremely rare. People talk about things like hitting for the cycle and no-hitters - even a perfect game, it's actually more rare than that. This was the 15th unassisted triple play in modern Major League history, 16 perfect games in modern Major League history. So it's even more rare than perfection.

SIEGEL: And then there's a subset of unassisted triple plays, unassisted triple plays to end the game.

Mr. KERI: Only the second time that's happened. A gentleman named Johnny Neun way back in 1927, a Detroit Tigers first baseman - by the way, very rare for a first baseman to do it, only twice has that ever happened.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KERI: He turned the trick. It was a one-nothing game, same thing, nobody out in the ninth inning, made the play, tagged the runner, tagged the base, had the triple play. This is only the second time that's happened, first time in 82 years.

SIEGEL: Now, unlike other rarities in baseball, a perfect game, as you say, or a 60 homerun season, or a 60 homerun season without performance-enhancing drugs…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: …this has a lot to do with luck because you have to have two runners on base, nobody out. The runners have to be running, the ball has to be hit hard, as you say, almost always to the shortstop or the second baseman. How significant is it if it depends so much on chance and coincidence?

Mr. KERI: Well, that's part of what makes baseball beautiful, is that a lot of it is chance and coincidence and things of that nature. And, you know, we've talked about what happened earlier in the inning. Bruntlett had made an error. He fielded a ball, was unable to record an out. And then on the very next play, he turns the triple play. This is not necessarily a gold-glove fielder. It's a guy who was in the right place at the right time.

The ball was absolutely cranked. I mean, it looked like it was going to drop into centerfield and be a hit, and the Mets were going to rally, but everything just happened to go perfectly right for the Phillies. So it truly was one of these cosmic coincidences, just a masterstroke of luck for a really good team, the Phillies. Sometimes, I guess, you have to be good to be lucky.

SIEGEL: And, of course, on the other side, for the Mets, there is a tradition of a kind of a lachrymose history for the New York Mets, and this would go down as yet another incredible thing that went against them.

Mr. KERI: And I'm excited because it's the first time I ever get to field the term lachrymose in a baseball interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KERI: And, yes, indeed. No, it's been a real tough season for the Mets, and they've struggled throughout. There have been people joking around. I was on Twitter and other places where people were talking about it. And they were saying that if any team would hit into a quadruple play, it would be the New York Mets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Baseball writer Jonah Keri in Durham, New Hampshire, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. KERI: Thanks for having me.

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