The First 2-1 Double Play That You Have Ever Seen

As baseball fans who happily allow themselves to be consumed by information, we know, automatically, what certain number sequences refer to. Take, for example, 40-40. That’s homers and steals, applying to the rare player both speedy and powerful. 30-100? Homers and RBI, which, whatever, don’t act like you didn’t know. 6-4-3? That’s a run-of-the-mill double play. 2-1? Padres game. It’s all a different language, and we’re fluent in it, even if it isn’t the sort of fluency you’re comfortable declaring on a resume.

But numbers are just numbers, and they can refer to anything. I mean, it’s possible that 6-4-3 could also mean six runs on four hits, with three errors. You just can’t be sure right away. Now, baseball makes this promise: any day at the ballpark, you might see something you’ve never seen before. It’s an element that helps to keep the game fresh, despite 162 repetitions. Not everyone, granted, might appreciate something rare, something historical. Kind of depends what we’re talking about. In this case, we have something appealing only to dorks. Sunday afternoon in Oakland, Mike Zunino and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners turned a 2-1 double play.

You’re having trouble picturing what this looked like. This is what this looked like. It is, unfortunately, not yet available to embed, but it’s pretty easy for you to click a link. Many of you, probably, have already seen the highlight, if you weren’t watching live, but for those of you to whom this is new, spend some minutes mulling this over before you watch the clip. Make a game of it. Imagine what happened. Just how wrong were you?

Very obviously, a 2-1 double play is unusual. It passes the broadcaster test:

Sims: I dare you to say you’ve seen that before.
Blowers: Can’t say that I have. Can’t say that I have.

It passes the Google test:

M. Richards hits into a 2,1 double play as the Lady Rattlers escape the top half of the inning and avoid giving up another score to Italy.

And most importantly, it passes the history test:

What this doesn’t say is it was the first 2-1 double play since 1987. What this does say is it was the first 2-1 double play since at least 1987, and, given that that’s a long time to go without one, chances are the last one didn’t occur in 1986. We’re left to guess, and they’re not even particularly educated guesses, but there’s some, non-zero chance this was the first 2-1 double play in major-league history. That’s obviously quite a leap, and I don’t want that to be the conclusion. What we know for sure is this is extraordinary. This is almost certainly the first 2-1 double play you’ve ever seen in your life. At least in the majors — I don’t know what happens at levels below. Even if there were one of these in the 60s or 70s or 80s, I doubt the game was widely televised, and I doubt you were in attendance.

To whatever extent we care about numerical combinations and sequences on defense, this is an incredible play. People, I think, are generally more in love with the rare 9-3 putout, because then someone looks amazing and someone gets laughed at. But we saw multiple 9-3 putouts just last year. It’s a rare sequence, but it’s not the most rare sequence. A 9-3 putout, perhaps, is gold. A 2-1 double play is lechatelierite. Yes, I had to look that up. Consider this a post about unfamiliar things.

Certain conditions are necessary for a 2-1 double play. Clearly, you need a runner on. Clearly, you need there to be fewer than two outs. But you then need more, a lot more, or else this wouldn’t be the first one of these in Internet-forever. The biggest difference-maker, in this case: Sam Fuld took off on the pitch. Mark Canha softly put the ball in the air. He hit the ball to an area where it would’ve been difficult for Fuld to see it. But Fuld was also not looking.

Rather, he was looking ahead. Ahead, there was a trap!

This isn’t anything unheard of. We’ve seen guys get doubled off before on attempted hit-and-runs. And we’ve heard of infielder decoys. It’s a relatively common strategy, and usually it doesn’t do anything. Here, Robinson Cano might’ve bought the Mariners an extra split-second or two. It was by that margin that Fuld was thrown out back at first base.

You can see Cano’s arm swung around, here:

fuld-felix-2

Fuld didn’t slide, so he didn’t think he was breaking anything up, but he did continue to run forward. He had to try to turn on a dime.

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A side view, where, again, you can just barely see Cano’s fake throwing motion:

fuld-cano

So, Fuld was going on the pitch. He was thrown off a little bit by the second baseman, before he hit reverse. Still, that didn’t just lead to an automatic 2-1 — more parts were required. That “1” means the pitcher had to be covering a bag, or at least be in the vicinity. What that means: the hit ball had to cause both the catcher and first baseman to converge. And then the pitcher had to be aware enough to get in position. And, at last, the catcher had to realize quickly that there was a chance to get another out with a fast and accurate throw.

When it was all over, it’s understandable why Sam Fuld didn’t quite gather what had happened.

fuld-felix-7

Meanwhile, the play got Lloyd McClendon to clap and stand up in the dugout. “This is why we do so much PFP,” he probably thought, even though no pitching staff in the world practices this particular play. That’s the true sign of polished defensive instincts — not just being able to do what you’ve gone over, but being able to think beyond that. Mike Zunino and Felix Hernandez created a new play. It’s twice as good as a strikeout.

fuld-felix-6

It’s difficult to spot an obvious error. Or, I guess it isn’t — Fuld never picked up the baseball, after he took off. But that happens often, and he was deceived by the player just in front of him. The ball was hit in the air literally behind his back, and it nearly got out of play. In another ballpark, it very well might’ve. We’ve seen runners like this get doubled off. We’ve just never seen it happen where the catcher makes the catch and then throws to the pitcher. It’s nothing as memorable as a grand slam or a no-hitter, but those are exponentially more common events. This is something you’ve never seen. You’ve seen a lot of baseball, and still it can pull crap like this out of its pocket.

As it happened, two innings later, Fuld was again on base with Canha at the plate. Fuld this time was maybe a little more wary:

fuld-cano-canha

But we saw a 4 unassisted double play just last September 19. It’s like, who even cares? Sunday brought us a 2-1 double play. It wasn’t the only conceivable way in which a 2-1 double play could take place, since pitchers also sometimes cover home, but who knows how long it’ll be until the next? Could be tomorrow. Could be after you’re dead. If you’ve gotten this far in the post, you’re a baseball dork. And if you’re a baseball dork, this was just the coolest thing. Except for all those other dorky cool things. This is the perfect sport for us.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Dylan
Guest
Dylan

I imagined a popped up bunt (not high enough for an infield fly) with the bases loaded, catcher makes a diving catch, the runner on 3rd doesn’t think it was caught and runs home thinking he was forced, and the pitcher (covering home) getting a throw and tagging him.

This was somehow stranger. I also think Fuld, seeing the decoy, may have thought that it was a single and that Cano was trying to get him to slide (something 2B do fairly often).

This is incredible

wildcard09
Member

Yeah, that’s more or less the kind of play I was imagining, but reality once again was way better!