When it comes to the ultimate defensive gem, it's hard to argue against the unassisted triple play.
Turning a triple play with the help of your teammates is noteworthy enough. But to record all three outs yourself -- single-handedly killing a rally in the process -- is especially rare.
"It's amazing," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said after snagging a liner by the Braves' Chipper Jones in the seventh inning on April 29, 2007. "It kind of just fell into my lap, but I'll take it."
As Tulowitzki noted, there is typically a little bit of luck involved, as runners are usually in motion, and the ball must be hit at the defender.
"As soon as I saw the runners take off, you think of a triple play, but it rarely ever happens," Tulowitzki said. "Line drive right at me, caught it, one out. Tagged the base for two and tagged the runner for three. It happened so quick."
Here is the elite fraternity of 15 players who have turned an unassisted triple play, including eight shortstops, five second basemen and two first basemen:
• Eric Bruntlett, Phillies second baseman, Aug. 23, 2009, ninth inning
It's already an amazing thing to turn an unassisted triple play, but when you do it to end a game while the tying runs are on base, that's next-level stuff. With runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth inning at Citi Field, the Mets started the runners while trailing, 9-7. Jeff Francoeur lined a ball up the middle, but Bruntlett was on his way to cover the bag on the steal attempt and snared the liner. He then stepped on second base for the force on the runner headed to third, and tagged the runner who came right to him at second. It was the first unassisted triple play to end a game in National League history.
• Asdrúbal Cabrera, Cleveland second baseman, May 12, 2008, fifth inning
Same situation here, though not in the ninth -- this time, it was the fifth inning at Progressive Field. The Blue Jays' Lyle Overbay lined a ball that was headed for center field before it was grabbed on a dive by Cabrera, who stepped on second and tagged the runner who had just arrived there on an ill-fated steal attempt.
• Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies shortstop, April 29, 2007, seventh inning
First and second, nobody out -- see a pattern here? In the top of the seventh inning of a 5-5 game at Coors Field, the Braves' Chipper Jones smashed a liner right to Tulowitzki at short, and all that remained was the simple matter of stepping on second and tagging out the runner from first, Edgar Renteria. It turned out to be a huge play in the game, which Colorado won in walk-off fashion, 9-7 in 11 innings.
• Rafael Furcal, Braves shortstop, Aug. 10, 2003, fifth inning
This time, it was the Braves who were on the right side of the triple play. Furcal made a full-extension, leaping catch of Cardinals pitcher Woody Williams' line drive with runners at first and second in the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. Furcal then ran to tag second base, as well as the retreating runner who had come from first, Orlando Palmeiro.
• Randy Velarde, Athletics second baseman, May 29, 2000, sixth inning
Same deal -- runners at first and second with nobody out, this time in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. The runners were on the move with the pitch, which resulted in a liner to second base off the bat of Shane Spencer, but the slight variation in this case is that Velarde tagged the runner who left first base before stepping on second for the trifecta. Watch >
• John Valentin, Red Sox shortstop, July 8, 1994, sixth inning
The Mariners' Marc Newfield hit a laser right at Valentin with runners at first and second in the sixth inning at Fenway Park. As has been shown to be crucial to the typical unassisted triple play, the runners were going on the pitch. Valentin stepped on second and tagged Keith Mitchell, who was on his way there. Boston trailed, 2-0, at the time, but came back to win the game, 4-3. Watch >
• Mickey Morandini, Phillies second baseman, Sept. 20, 1992, sixth inning
By this point you probably know the situation -- first and second, nobody out. It was the sixth inning at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates' Jeff King hit a line drive up the middle that Morandini made a great diving play on. He then got to his feet and stepped on second to get the force out on Andy Van Slyke before tagging out Barry Bonds, who was on the move from first base with the pitch.
• Ron Hansen, Senators shortstop, July 30, 1968, first inning
Hansen's club would lose, 10-1, to Cleveland on this day at Cleveland Stadium. But it would be a day to remember for something other than a blowout loss -- after a single and a walk to open the bottom of the first inning, Joe Azcue hit a liner to short, where Hansen made the catch, stepped on second and tagged the runner coming from first, Russ Snyder.
• Johnny Neun, Tigers first baseman, May 31, 1927, ninth inning
Cleveland was the victim of the rarest of defensive plays not once, but three times. This time it was in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers in Detroit. And, yes, we have to go all the way back to 1927 to find an unassisted triple play that wasn't pulled off by a middle infielder. This one was also the first in AL/NL history to end a game -- following a walk and a bunt single to open the top of the ninth inning, Homer Summa lined a pitch to Neun at first, where he tagged the runner who was off the bag there and sprinted to second to beat the lead runner, who had been running on the pitch, back to the bag.
• Jimmy Cooney, Cubs shortstop, May 30, 1927, fourth inning
Incredibly, there were unassisted triple plays turned on back-to-back days -- two of the 15 to ever take place -- with this one coming the day before Neun's in Detroit. Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner was at the plate with runners at first and second in the first game of a doubleheader between the Cubs and the Pirates at Forbes Field. Waner lined a ball up the middle, but with Cooney shading that way while holding on the runner at second, he snared it, stepped on second and tagged the runner coming from first, who apparently thought the ball hadn't been caught in the air because he slid right into Cooney's tag. Chicago won, 7-6, in 10 innings.
• Glenn Wright, Pirates shortstop,, May 7, 1925, ninth inning
The thread connecting unassisted triple plays continues -- the man who turned the one after this one was also involved here. Cooney was on the wrong end of the play this time, however. His Cardinals were holding a one-run lead in the top of the ninth against the Pirates at Forbes Field. With Cooney on second after drawing a walk, and Rogers Hornsby following with another base on balls, Jim Bottomley lined one to short, where Wright caught it, stepped on second to retire Cooney and then tagged Hornsby out for the triple-play. Amazingly, Cooney was involved in yet another triple play just a season earlier, though it wasn't of the unassisted variety -- Bottomley, the Cards' first baseman, caught a bunt attempt that was popped up, then fired to Cooney at second before Cooney threw to Hornsby covering first to complete the triple play.
• Ernie Padgett, Braves shortstop, Oct. 6, 1923, fourth inning
It was the final game of the regular season, the nightcap of a doubleheader between the Braves and the Phillies in Boston. It was also a frigid evening, and after the first game of the twin bill went 14 innings, the two clubs -- both entering the series trying to avoid a last-place finish -- agreed that the second contest would be five innings. In just his fourth Major League game, Padgett became the fourth player in AL/NL history to turn an unassisted triple play. Philadelphia's Cotton Tierney and Cliff Lee opened the fourth inning with back-to-back singles. Then Walter Holke smashed a sinking liner that Padgett caught. He stepped on second and tagged the runner retreating to first for the triple play.
• George Burns, Red Sox first baseman, Sept. 14, 1923, second inning
Burns was the first first baseman to turn an unassisted triple play. With Cleveland runners at first and second in the second inning at Fenway Park, Frank Brower lined a ball that was headed for right field, when Burns cut to his right to spear it. With his momentum taking him toward second base, Burns tagged out the runner who had left first base before stepping on second to complete the trifecta.
• Bill Wambsganss, Cleveland second baseman, Oct. 10, 1920, fifth inning (Game 5 of World Series)
There has only been one unassisted triple play in postseason history, and it came during Game 5 of the 1920 World Series between Cleveland and the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers). In the fifth inning, Brooklyn reliever Clarence Mitchell lined one to Wambsganss at second, where he leaped to make a great catch, stepped on second and tagged the runner sprinting toward him from first. That game was also the first in Fall Classic history to feature a grand slam, which was hit by Elmer Smith in the first inning of the 8-1 Cleveland victory at League Park.
• Neal Ball, Naps shortstop, July 19, 1909, second inning
When Ball turned the first unassisted triple play in AL/NL history, the legendary Cy Young was on the mound, and he reportedly didn't know what had happened -- who could blame him, after all, since it was the first of its kind? It was the "standard" scenario of runners at first and second with no outs in the second inning at League Park, when Red Sox second baseman Amby McConnell hit a line drive to Ball at short. He stepped on second and tagged Boston's Jake Stahl, who had been on the move from first as part of a hit-and-run attempt.