It’s amazing what an unassisted triple play can do for a team.
Red Sox shortstop John Valentin entered the history books by pulling off the baseball rarity in the sixth inning last night. With runners going from first and second, he snared Seattle DH Marc Newfield’s liner, stepped on second to force Mike Blowers and trotted a few steps to tag the runner (Keith Mitchell) coming from first -- all very matter-of-factly.
In the bottom half, the Sox unloaded their first three-homer inning in nearly a decade -- triggered by none other than Valentin -- as they overtook the Mariners, 4-3, in one of the most memorable games you’ll ever see at Fenway Park.
It was the 11th time in major league history an unassisted triple play had occurred.
Valentin admitted that at first, he thought there was one out because after catching the liner and stepping on the bag, he noticed “Keith Mitchell wasn’t really running. I looked over at the scoreboard and saw there was nobody out and my teammates reminded me to tag him.”
Valentin’s historic achievement also served as the catalyst for the Sox’ comeback, which came at the expense of Mariners starter Dave Fleming and reliever Bill Risley in the bottom of the sixth.
Proving he’s not a one-dimensional hero, Valentin led off with a homer, and Tom Brunansky (two-run shot) and Rich Rowland also went deep.
The Sox hadn’t hit three homers in an inning since Sept. 18, 1984, when Dwight Evans, Tony Armas and Mike Easler struck against Toronto’s Jim Gott.
The drama wasn’t over. In the top of the ninth, starter Chris Nabholz surrendered a homer to Blowers that made it a one-run game and brought on Ken Ryan.
Then some other defensive heroes emerged. Third baseman Scott Cooper dived to his left on Mitchell’s grounder and made a hard throw that Tim Naehring picked at first. Center fielder Lee Tinsley then made a diving catch to rob Newfield. Finally, Ryan surrendered a shot to right by pinch hitter Reggie Jefferson that seemed destined for the Boston bullpen -- and a tie game. But right fielder Wes Chamberlain, leaping at the same time as Tinsley, reached over the fence, grabbed the shot and preserved the win.
“They were probably the most humongous plays I’ve ever seen in my life back-to-back-to-back,” said Seattle’s wunderkind 18-year-old shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, whose major league debut may prove the most unforgettable game of his career.
It certainly impressed veteran observers.
“I’ve never seen a game end with three incredible plays like that,” said Sox bullpen coach John Wathan, who directed traffic when Tinsley and Chamberlain did their aerial act, which enabled Ryan to survive after he’d blown the series opener with a ninth-inning collapse the night before.
“This is gonna be the one that turns us around,” said manager Butch Hobson. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Precious few have seen anything like Valentin’s effort, the first unassisted triple play since Philadelphia second baseman Mickey Morandini accomplished the feat on Sept. 20, 1992. It was the first for the Sox since 1923, when first baseman George Burns turned the trick against the Cleveland Indians. And it was the Sox’ first triple play of any kind since July 28, 1979, when Jack Brohamer, Bob Watson and Hobson teamed up.
“Every player dreams about something like that,” Valentin said. “It was something special. I guess it was my night, but not as special as what Wes Chamberlain did to end the game.”
Chamberlain was almost jumping for joy when he made the catch and kept showing the ball to the umpires.
“I went up and I knew Lee was right there,” he said. “Our gloves were touching and I just leaped as high as I could after I got as close to the wall as I could.”
Lost amid the histrionics was a solid effort by Nabholz, making his second start since being acquired from Cleveland last weekend in the Jeff Russell trade. In eight-plus innings, he allowed eight hits, though he looked like a loser when Ken Griffey tripled in a run in the third and Felix Fermin’s fifth- inning single made it 2-0, bringing home Bill Haselman, who had reached on Valentin’s throwing error.
But the rest was history.