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The Strike Zone

Watch: Interference call gives Rockies triple play, first such ruling since 1905

The Rockies turned an around-the-horn 5-4-3 triple play on the Padres in the top of the third inning of their game at Coors Field Sunday afternoon. It was just the second triple play turned this season, the third since the start of the 2013 season, and the first turned by a team other than the Yankees since August 2012.

What made it far more rare, however, was the fact that one of the outs was recorded via an interference call by second base umpire Seth Buckminster. Buckminster cited Seth Smith, who was forced out going from first to second on the play, for sliding out of the basepath in an attempt to interfere with pivot man DJ LeMahieu. The play was thus the first triple-play in the majors to involve an interference ruling since 1905 and just the third ever to do so.

Your browser does not support iframes.Watching the replay, Smith clearly aimed his slide at LeMahieu, who took the throw from third baseman Nolan Arenado coming across the bag and was even with the lip of the infield grass when making his throw, and reached out and made contact with LeMahieu's legs with his right hand as he slid by. Buckminster made the call immediately, calling Smith out and signaling interference in the same motion without looking at first base, where batter Carlos Quentin beat LeMahieu's throw by no more than a foot. Even though LeMahieu's throw wasn't noticeably impeded by the contact from Smith, it was the right call according to Rule 6.05(m)*, and a historic one.

*A batter is out when -- A preceding runner shall, in the umpire's judgement, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting . . . to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play. . . . Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base.

According to the triple play data on the Society for American Baseball Research's website, only two of the 692 previous triple plays in the major leagues dating back to 1876 involved an interference call, the last coming in 1905. On that occasion, June 1, 1905 to be exact, the Reds bunted with runners on first and second, but the bunt was popped up. Cardinals first baseman Jake Beckley caught the ball in the air for the first out, then threw to second baseman Harry Arndt to double up the lead runner, future Yankees skipper Miller Huggins. However the runner from first, Tommy Corcoran (no relation), interfered with Arndt's catch, and was thus ruled out. The Cardinals didn't need the interference call to turn the triple play, Arndt recovered to double up Huggins and threw to first where the pitcher tagged out Corcoran retreating to the bag, however, because of the interference call, the triple play was officially completed when Huggins was doubled off.

Curiously, two of the players involved in that play, the batter who initiated that play by popping up his bunt, Reds' outfielder Cy Seymour, and Beckley, were also involved in the only other triple play in major league history to involve an interference call, both doing so as members of the New York Giants. That came on May 15, 1897, with Seymour pitching for New York against the Reds and Beckley, once again, at first base. That play also began with a pop-up, which Seymour caught for the first out. He then threw shortstop George Davis to double off the runner at second. Davis then threw to Beckley at first to double off Reds runner Farmer Vaughn, but rather than being doubled up conventionally, Vaughn jarred the ball loose from Beckley and was ruled out on interference.

Both of those interference calls, the more recent of which happened 109 years ago, were very different from the one in the Rockies game on Sunday. Baseball is such a quirky sport that it often occasions observers to say "I've never seen that before." That's not always literally true, but in in this case, it very much is. That makes it all the more remarkable that this was not necessarily the most unique triple-play occurrence of the week. On Friday, Penn State turned two triple plays in a single game, something that had only happened once in the entire history of the NCAA and has only happened once in the entire history of the major leagues, as well.

 

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