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Monday, August 24, 2009
Three Strikes: Sunday insanity edition

By Jayson Stark


STRIKE ONE -- TRIFECTA DEPT.


So much bizarre stuff happened in Sunday's New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game at Citi Field, cyberspace barely has room to let us recap it all. But let's get to work on it anyway. Here goes:

Jeff Francoeur

Francoeur



Angel Pagan

Pagan





• The first Mets batter of this game (Angel Pagan) hit an inside-the-park homer. The last (Jeff Francoeur) hit into a triple play. So when was the last time any team did that? Good question. Between SABR's triple-play research and the indispensible retrosheet.org, all we know is that no team has done it in at least the past 74 seasons. Before 1936, who the heck knows? But here's what we do know: If it hasn't happened in about three-quarters of a century, it's definitely hard to do.

• According to ESPN's fabulous Stats & Information department, this was the first National League game to include any kind of inside-the-park homer and any kind of triple play (unassisted or otherwise) since Sept. 25, 1955. Eerily, that was another game in which the Phillies were playing a team in New York. It was a Phillies-Giants game that featured a Ted Kazanski inside-the-parker in the fifth inning and the Giants' Bobby Hofman lining into a ninth-inning triple play. But the triple play didn't just end the game. It also ended both teams' seasons.

• OK, now it's on to Eric Bruntlett, the man who rode his game-ending unassisted triple play into the history books. Before that trifecta, Bruntlett had had five balls hit to him at second base in the ninth inning this season -- and had only turned one of them into an out. That was an Omir Santos pop-up that he gathered in way back on May 2. Between that play and the triple play, Bruntlett had four ground balls hit to him, and they went: Infield single (July 1), E4 (Aug. 12), E4 (Sunday), infield single (Sunday). And then, on the next ball whacked at him, he turned an unassisted triple play. Amazing!



Eric Bruntlett

Bruntlett





• But here's a slightly more upbeat Eric Bruntlett note: He was the first player in the live-ball era to get three hits and record an unassisted TP in the same game.

• Loyal reader Evan Jones reports that Bruntlett was the first man to turn an unassisted triple play in which one of the outs involved a runner who had reached on his own error since Randy Velarde did it in 2000. Shane Spencer got to first on a Velarde error that day, then got tagged out by Velarde on the very next play.

• Here's a fun note from ESPN research guru Mark Simon: The Phillies turned the first triple play at Citi Field on Sunday. And which team once turned the first triple play at Shea Stadium? That would also be the Phillies -- a 1-6-3 TP on Aug. 15, 1964.

• Finally, is there some kind of unassisted triple-play epidemic we don't know about? Over the 72 seasons from 1928 through 1999, there were only three unassisted triple plays turned -- in more than 200,000 games. We've now seen one three years in a row (by Bruntlett this year, Asdrubal Cabrera last year and Troy Tulowitzki in 2007). If there's an inoculation that can prevent that, we're pretty sure Jeff Francoeur is interested.

STRIKE TWO -- YOU'RE JOSHING DEPT.


The madness this weekend wasn't confined to just one team from New York. The Yankees had a thrill-a-minute series at Fenway Park themselves. Among the highlights:

• When Derek Jeter led off Sunday's game with a home run against Josh Beckett, it marked the first time both New York teams had leadoff homers on the same day since Aug. 12, 1986. The two guys who did it then? Lenny Dykstra and Rickey Henderson.

Josh Beckett

Beckett





• And that bomb by Jeter launched an all-time nutty evening in the life of Beckett: eight innings, eight earned runs, five homers. As loyal reader Eli Rosenswaike reports, only one other pitcher in the past 55 years has had a line like that: Pat Hentgen, on June 25, 1997.

• So how'd that happen? Before this start, Beckett had given up seven earned runs at Fenway since May 23 (in 52 2/3 innings). Then he gave up eight in one night.

• Let the record show he was also the first Red Sox non-knuckleballer (i.e., the first pitcher not named Tim Wakefield) to allow five home runs in a start at Fenway since Dennis Eckersley on July 1, 1979.

• And that's not all. After allowing runs in each of the past five innings he pitched in his previous start, Beckett couldn't put a zero on the board until the sixth inning of this start. So that meant (A) he'd just joined Jamie Moyer as the only Red Sox pitchers in history to give up runs in each of the first five innings of a start at Fenway, and (B) Beckett had been scored on in 10 straight innings over two starts for the first time in his career. Before that, he'd been scored on in only 10 of his previous 56 innings.

• Finally, there were 58 runs scored in this series, which was wild enough. But, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman pointed out over the weekend, the three alumni of the 2003 Marlins who pitched in it -- Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny -- were responsible for allowing nearly half of those runs. The combined line of those three guys: 17 IP, 28 H, 25 R, 25 ER, 3 BB, 15 K and 8 HR. Their combined ERA: 13.24. Where's Pro Player/Dolphins/Land Shark Stadium when you need it, anyway?

STRIKE THREE -- THAT'S A FIRST DEPT.


Meanwhile, in the rest of the nation ...

John Smoltz

Smoltz





• In his very first game with the St. Louis Cardinals, John Smoltz struck out seven hitters in a row. So how often did he do that as a Brave? Never, of course -- in 708 trips to the mound covering a total of 3,395 innings.

• Joe Torre did something with his current closer, Jonathan Broxton, that he never did in the 11 seasons Mariano Rivera was his closer in New York -- yank his closer before the ninth inning even though (A) Broxton was healthy and (B) a save opportunity was still in effect. Torre brought Broxton into the eighth inning of Saturday's game against the Chicago Cubs with a 2-0 lead -- then took him out before the start of the ninth, with the save opportunity still in place, and let George Sherrill pitch the ninth. Back in New York, Torre waved for Rivera 489 times with a save on the line. But the only time the manager ever hooked him before the ninth inning, with a save still on the line, was July 20, 2002, when Rivera had to exit with shoulder tightness. Whereupon Ramiro Mendoza marched in and blew the save. Naturally.

Albert Pujols has now had five 40-homer seasons. All Cardinals hitters in history not named Albert Pujols have combined for six -- two by Mark McGwire, two by Jim Edmonds, and one each by Johnny Mize and Rogers Hornsby.

Bronson Arroyo

Arroyo





• Finally, if you perused your league leaderboards last week, you'd have found something strange: Bronson Arroyo was tied for the NL lead in shutouts, with two. But he was also leading the league in runs allowed until Manny Parra passed him over the weekend. So how many pitchers have pulled off that weird double -- leading the league in shutouts and runs? Just two in the expansion era: Gaylord Perry in 1970 (NL) and Jose Contreras in 2007 (AL). Someone tell Arroyo there's nothing you can take at GNC that will make that possible, we're pretty sure.