ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't always like this for the Yankees, who finished a triple play with a ball that slammed into Mickey Mantle's glove at the original Yankee Stadium during the summer of 1968, then didn't sniff another one for more than 40 years.
But as long as CC Sabathia keeps taking his turn every fifth day, triple plays may be a semi-regular April occurrence for the Yankees. They went around the horn on Thursday and turned their third in the past four years, part of a 10-2 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"I'm lucky, man. Unbelievable," Sabathia said. "I'm just trying to make a pitch and get a double play."
The triple play came in the second inning with the Rays' Sean Rodriguez at bat and was scored 5-4-3. With runners at first and second, third baseman Yangervis Solarte fielded a hard chopper off Rodriguez's bat and raced to third base to force out Evan Longoria.
Solarte then fired a strong throw to second baseman Brian Roberts, who pivoted on the bag to force out Wil Myers. Roberts quickly fed a one-hop throw to first baseman Scott Sizemore, who scooped the ball in time to retire Rodriguez.
"Solarte made a great play, and Sizemore made an even better play on the pick at first," Sabathia said.
Solarte had never been involved in a triple play at any level but was thinking about one right off the bat.
"I was thinking if they hit a ball close to the base, I'm going to have to step on the base, go to second base," Solarte said through an interpreter. "If they hit the ball to the other side, I throw to second base and do a double play."
"That's kind of the first thing you think of," Roberts said. "It's usually the way you see it happen; third baseman's in for a possible bunt, and you just get a one-hopper right to him that leads him a little bit toward the bag. I think that's about the only way it happens on a ground ball."
Sizemore was playing his first career game at first base, but Roberts watched Sizemore take ground balls during batting practice and so was not concerned about the throw being handled.
Sizemore recognized the situation quickly.
"I saw it developing, and I just said, 'I've got to catch this one at all costs,'" Sizemore said. "So I managed to dig it out of the dirt and finish it off."
Sizemore said that it was not too difficult to corral Roberts' throw.
"I guess it's never easy when it's in the dirt, but that wasn't a tougher one," he said. "Usually a short hop, you can kind of see it and go get it. On a one-to-10 scale, it was maybe a four."
It was the third time that the Rays have hit into a triple play in their history. As coincidence would have it, Rodriguez hit into the most recent one, on Aug. 16, 2011, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, also a 5-4-3 triple play.
"You hit it more to the left, it's foul," he said. "Hit it to the right more, it's right at him for a double play; not so much a triple play. But I hit it hard in the perfect spot for him to step and throw. That hurt a lot."
When Rodriguez later homered off Sabathia, he became the first player to hit a home run and hit into a triple play in the same game since Russell Martin, then with the Yankees, did so on Sept. 27, 2011, at Tropicana Field.
For Sabathia, who raised his arms in celebration after Sizemore completed the triple play, this is getting to be a remarkably regular occurrence.
The left-hander was also on the hill for a triple play on April 22, 2010, against the Athletics in Oakland -- Alex Rodriguez to Robinson Cano to Nick Johnson (5-4-3) on a ground ball hit by Kurt Suzuki.
Sabathia was again on the mound for an April 12, 2013, triple play against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, the first 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play in history, involving second baseman Cano, shortstop Jayson Nix, third baseman Kevin Youkilis and first baseman Lyle Overbay.
"I've never been a part of any of them until I've been around CC," manager Joe Girardi said. "They're big plays, obviously."
No other pitcher since 1973 has been on the mound for two triple plays. Rodriguez became the first player to hit into a pair of them since Chipper Jones (1996, 2007) and Tony Gwynn (1991, 1995).
Before the most recent run, the Yankees' last triple play was completed on June 3, 1968, against the Twins -- pitcher Dooley Womack to third baseman Bobby Cox to Mantle at first base, on a ball hit by Minnesota's Johnny Roseboro.
Sizemore gave the ball to Sabathia, who is starting to amass quite an impressive collection.
"It's cool," Sizemore said. "It's just that everyone gets so jacked up about it. Everyone was just laughing. It's just a rarity in baseball."