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Usual loss spiced up by historic triple play
The Rays turn a 2-6-2 triple play, the first of its kind and along with three home runs one of the few highlights of a 4-3 loss to the Mariners.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 3, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - As many times as the Devil Rays have lost over their nine seasons - 856 and counting after Saturday's 4-3 defeat by Seattle - it would seem they have covered pretty much all scenarios.
But the Rays (54-82) never lost a game quite like Saturday, one in which they turned a unique triple play that started and ended at home plate, with just a throw from catcher Dioner Navarro to shortstop Ben Zobrist and back, and without the ball touching a bat.
That's because that play, a 2-6-2 triple play in scoring parlance, had, according to the Society for American Baseball Research, never been made before in major-league history.
So an otherwise uneventful game - aside from J.P. Howell's career-high 62/3-inning outing, home runs by Rocco Baldelli and rookies Delmon Young and Zobrist, and the official extension of the Rays' streak of losing seasons to nine - became something of a historic event thanks to the bizarre first-inning sequence.
"I guess I'll be seeing myself on ESPN tonight," Navarro said.
The Mariners had Jose Lopez on third and Adrian Beltre on first when Raul Ibanez was called out looking at a third strike on a full-count pitch from Howell. Beltre broke for second, but Navarro's throw was so good, he stopped and tried to go back to first. Zobrist ran him down and made the tag, then saw Lopez break for home and fired a strike back to the plate, where Navarro made the tag for the third out.
"I couldn't tell you the line that I'd write down in the scorebook," Howell said. "I was trying to throw a strike and I was wrapped up in that so bad, I just watched the ball fly around like a snowball fight."
"Snap, snap, it happened just like that."
It was the 664th triple play in major-league history (the 73rd to occur in the first inning), the fourth this season and the second straight involving the Rays. They hit into an odd and almost as unusual one in Kansas City on June 11, with the final coming on an appeal play that Aubrey Huff left third base too soon.
It was the second time the Rays turned a triple play, the first coming Sept. 13, 2002, in pitcher Dewon Brazelton's debut, which they also lost; the second the Mariners "hit" into this season, making them the first AL team to do that in one season since 1998; and the first triple play at Tropicana Field.
"It was weird," Ibanez said. "You could see everything happen in slow motion."
For a team that tends to make a lot of mistakes (two more errors pushed them over the 100 mark), the Rays executed it perfectly.
Navarro looked Lopez back to third and threw a strike to second, which Zobrist said was the key. Zobrist tagged out Beltre and left himself in excellent position to throw home, which manager Joe Maddon said was most important.
"We did everything the way we were supposed to," Navarro said.
"In a practice situation you couldn't do it any better than that," Maddon said.
The loss left the Rays one more loss (or Yankees win) from official elimination in the AL East race, but as in many of their others Maddon saw some encouraging signs.
He liked the way Howell pitched, mixing in more curveballs to keep hitters off his 82-83 mph fastball. He liked the way the Rays rallied after being down 4-1. He liked the way Baldelli hit a leadoff homer (his third in 21 games), the way Young muscled a 1-and-2 pitch over the right-centerfield fence and the way Zobrist drove a 3-and-1 pitch with two outs in the ninth.
"There were a lot of good things," he said. "We just got beat."