The Unassisted Triple Play

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Oct 24, 2009

"Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not match the expectation."
Charlotte Bronte

Few plays in all of sports have as much drama or rarity as baseball's unassisted triple play. By definition, an unassisted triple play occurs when a defensive player makes all three outs in one continuous play without any other teammate touching the ball. 

In Major League baseball, it is one of the rarest of individual feats, along with hitting four home runs in one game. Only 15 have ever occurred: two by first basemen, five by second basemen and eight by shortstops. In fact, there have been more perfect games in baseball history than unassisted triple plays. 

You can imagine my amazement to see one while I was watching on television the Philadelphia Phillies play the New York Mets at Met Stadium on August 23, 2009. The Phillies were leading 9 to 7 in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Mets were threatening with runners on first and second. 

This year the Phillies have lost way too many games in the late innings. The Mets batter, Jeff Francoeur, hit a line drive right past the pitcher and as I saw it flying through the air I thought to myself, "Oh no, here we go again." The runners on first and second were also stealing on the 2-2 pitch which meant they were running at full tilt. Anyone watching the ball just knew it was headed toward center field for a single. 

Because they were stealing, the shortstop was already moving toward second base to cover the base for the runner who was speeding there from first base. Eric Bruntlett, the short stop filling in for the regular Jimmy Rollins, was in perfect position for the flying baseball. He caught the liner easily for the first out. For the second out, he stepped on second base putting out Luis Castillo who was trying to get back to second. He then turned and tagged Daniel Murphy for the third out because he was heading from first to second base. Murphy tried to run away but there was nowhere to go. 

It all happened so fast I could hardly believe my eyes. I remember seeing one other assisted triple play but I never saw an unassisted triple play. What made it even more amazing was that Bruntlett himself had made one of two errors in that inning and that was why there were two men on base. But just like that, the game was over. It was only the second time in Major League baseball history that a game ended on a triple play. 

"I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what to do," Bruntlett said. "The ninth inning was wild. The whole game it seemed strange." I can only imagine how the Mets fans must have felt for the game to end so abruptly, especially when the momentum had shifted in their favor. 

Because the unassisted triple play is extremely rare, I checked out who else performed that feat. I read names like Troy Tulowitzki, John Valentin, Johnny Neun, George Burns and Neal Ball. I was surprised I didn't see the names of Derek Jeter or Ozzie Smith or Cal Ripken, Jr. Even the Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins was not playing his usual position on that day. 

I am reminded that any average person like you or me can make history at any time on any day if we are at the right place at the right time doing the right thing. I guess that's why Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped past him." 

You can probably tell I love the game of baseball. Every time it is played, like life, you can never predict what will happen. The potential for historic drama is literally around every corner. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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