An infield to remember
April, 18, 2014
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It may have the mellifluous ring of Tinker to Evers to Chance, or even A-Rod to Jeter to Tex, but on Thursday night at The Trop, Solarte to Roberts to Sizemore became a Yankees trio for the ages.
Or, at least, for the first 16 games of a season that has started about as well as anyone could have expected after the offseason loss of the team's starting second baseman (to free agency), its starting third baseman (to suspension) and, recently, its starting first baseman (to injury).
Instead of Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, the New York Yankees took the field Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays with a rookie third baseman, an always-injured second baseman and a guy who had never played first base in his life.
Somehow, that makeshift infield combined on that rarest of infield events, a triple play, in the second inning of the Yankees' 10-2 win over the Rays. The play could hardly be called a turning point -- the Yankees were already leading 4-0 and had just four of the 16 hits and one of the three home runs they would wind up hitting -- and yet, it provided an undeniable lift to the team and starting pitcher CC Sabathia, who has somehow now thrown three of them in his six seasons as a Yankee. That is fully 12.5 percent of all the triple plays the Yankees have turned in their entire history (24), which seems like more than coincidence until you realize it can't be anything else.
Because until Sabathia threw the pitch that induced a 5-4-3 triple play on April 22, 2010, against the Athletics in Oakland -- a game better remembered for Oakland's starting pitcher Dallas Braden ordering Alex Rodriguez off his mound -- the Yankees had gone 32 years without one.
This one started the way most ground-ball triple plays do -- with runners at first and second, and a hot smash hit right at a third baseman stationed near the line.
This hot smash -- a one-hopper -- was hit right at Solarte, a rookie whose big league experience at third base now encompasses all of 13 games, 10 of which he has started. Solarte fielded it cleanly and, without the slightest hesitation, went right to third for the force out. Then he turned and fired to second, where Brian Roberts -- acquired in the offseason to fill the space of, if not take the place of, Cano -- took the throw, stepped on second and threw to first, where Scott Sizemore -- a second baseman by trade forced into his first-ever game at first base due to the hamstring injury suffered by Teixeira -- waited for the ball.
Brian Blanco/Getty ImagesBrian Roberts finished the Yanks' triple play with a bullet to first.
But it wasn't that easy. Roberts' throw skipped on the dirt a couple of feet in front of Sizemore, who looked very much like a real first baseman in making a sweeping scoop to complete the play.
One pitch, three outs. And a lot of laughs in the Yankees' infield, especially since none of the three principles had ever been involved in one before.
"It’s cool," Sizemore said. "Everyone gets so jacked up about it. Everyone was just laughing."
"Everybody was happy. Everybody was pumped. We were celebrating," Solarte said.
"As soon as it happened, I thought, 'I’ve never been a part of one of those,'" Roberts said. "Apparently CC does it all the time, though."
Sabathia was also pitching a year ago when the Orioles' Manny Machado hit into a messier, but no less exciting 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play. Still, Sabathia said he hasn't come to rely on the triple play as a weapon.
"It was lucky, man," he said. "Unbelievable. I was just trying to make a pitch to get a double play there."
The triple play was the standout play of a bizarre game in which the Yankees nearly lost Carlos Beltran to a collision with a side wall in right field, in which the Rays' first run scored on a passed ball charged to Brian McCann, an All-Star catcher, and a night when David Price, who almost never loses to CC or the Yankees, looked like a guy who could never have beaten either of them.
Sabathia pitched his best game of the year, seven innings of seven-hit, two-run ball, the only earned run coming on a solo homer by Sean Rodriguez in the seventh.
But the real standouts were the interim infielders, who aside from collaborating on the triple play, went a combined 7-for-13 with a home run, a triple, three doubles, four runs scored and four RBIs. The home run was by Solarte -- his first in the major leagues -- and through 16 games this 26-year-old looks like the real deal. After languishing in two farm systems (Texas and Minnesota) for six seasons, Solarte is hitting .373 with a home run, nine RBIs (tied with Beltran for the team lead) and a 1.017 OPS.
“He’s done a lot in two weeks, hasn’t he?" Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I’m sure he’s probably hoping he doesn’t wake up, in a sense."
Solarte agreed. "This has been incredible for me," he said. "I don't want to wake up. I'm very happy and everything is working out for me."
Beltran OK: The Yankees right fielder took a nasty tumble, vaulting over the short fence in foul territory chasing down Desmond Jennings's fly ball. He stayed in for the rest of the game and said he escaped with only some bruises and expects to be able to play tomorrow, although he did caution, "I gotta see how I wake up tomorrow."
Beltran didn't slow a step as he neared the wall and hit it full speed with his thighs. He confirmed afterward that he had no idea he was about to run into it.
"I didn’t want to take my eyes off the baseball because of the roof," he said. "My left shoulder and my right wrist are a little sore, but other than that, I’m fine.”
Dealin' Betances: The Yankees 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances pitched the last two innings, and aside from control problems in the eighth, in which he walked two batters, looked sharp. Three of the six outs he got came on strikeouts, two of them looking on curveballs to Logan Forsythe and Matt Joyce. Betances has now thrown 6-1/3 scoreless innings and allowed just one hit while striking out 11.