What Is A 5-4-3 Triple Play?

You are new to baseball and are watching a game on the telly when the commentator announces that there will be a 5-4-3 triple play. What is a 5-4-3 triple play in baseball? Let’s find out! 

5-4-3 Triple Play in Baseball

The 5-4-3 triple play refers to a specific play where the defensive players at positions 5, 4, and 3 work together to make three outs in one continuous play. The numbers and hyphens represent the positions on the field involved in this impressive feat. 

The 5-4-3 triple play is also called the “around the horn” play, as the ball travels from the left side of the diamond to the center (second base) and then to the right side. It’s like a three-quarters of a square, clockwise circuit.

The initial digit in the sequence 5-4-3 signifies the player who fields the hit ball, followed by a hyphen connecting to the position where the ball was thrown. In this scenario, the play involves the third baseman throwing to the second baseman, who tosses the ball to the first baseman to secure the final out. 

What Are The Different Methods To Execute A Triple Play? 

There are several ways to perform a triple play, but most of them involve having runners on first and second base. Typically, the shortstop or third baseman fields a ball, forcing or tagging out the runner heading to third, then throwing the ball to second base for a force play, and finally to first base to throw out the batter. 

Another common method for the 5-4-3 triple play is if the third baseman catches a line drive or pop-up and subsequently throws to second base to force a runner who failed to tag up, and the second baseman then tosses the ball to first base to achieve the same force-out result.

Finally, a 5-4-3 triple play can be executed if the third baseman initially steps on his base to force an out and then proceeds with the second-to-first play for the second and third outs. It would be classified as a 5-4-3 triple play. When it comes to scoring, the number of outs achieved, encircled near the point of the putout, determines whether it was a 5-4-3 double play or a 5-4-3 triple play.

Why Are Triple Plays Rare?

Triple plays are not commonly seen in baseball due to a combination of specific circumstances that need to align perfectly. These are:

  • There must be no outs in the inning. 
  • There must be at least two runners already on base, creating a situation where multiple outs can be made. 
  • Furthermore, triple plays often occur when runners are advancing in force-out situations, meaning they have no choice but to run to the next base.
  • Lastly, a line drive hit directly to a defensive player is usually required for a triple play to happen. 

These factors contribute to the rarity of triple plays in baseball. In fact, since 1876, there have only been 735 triple plays recorded in Major League Baseball (MLB), averaging just over five per season.

How Common Is The 5-4-3 Triple Play As Compared To Other Triple Plays?

In comparison to other triple plays, the 5-4-3 Triple Play is the most prevalent, constituting over 50% of the 700-plus triple plays in MLB history. The 6-4-3 triple play makes up an additional 30%. As for unassisted triple plays, the 6-6-6 has been witnessed the most, occurring 8 times. 

This signifies that the shortstop caught a fly ball or liner, tagged a runner off second base, and then also tagged the runner coming from first base. Essentially, he single-handedly made all three outs, which is extremely rare.

Most Recent MLB Triple Play

On August 18, 2023, the Los Angeles Angels executed a triple play against the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the ninth inning. Yandy Díaz was on third base, and Randy Arozarena was on first base when Harold Ramírez hit a ground ball that initiated a double play. 

Shortstop Luis Rengifo threw the ball to second baseman Brandon Drury to retire Arozarena (first out), who then relayed the ball to first baseman Nolan Schanuel to retire Ramírez (second out). However, Díaz attempted to score from third base, and Schanuel threw the ball to catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who tagged out Díaz as he slid into home (third out). 

This was the Angels’ first triple play since the 1997 season, but unfortunately, they lost the game.

Unassisted Triple Plays

In baseball, completing all three outs in one play is a rare feat, especially when done by a single fielder. This is known as an unassisted triple play, and it is one of the rarest events in the sport. To date, there have only been 15 unassisted triple plays in MLB history, making it even rarer than a perfect game. 

Typically, this type of triple play occurs when a middle infielder catches a line drive near second base (first out), steps on the base before the runner who started there can tag up (second out), and then tags the runner advancing from first before he can return there (third out). Interestingly, of the 15 unassisted triple plays in MLB history, 12 have been completed in this exact manner by a middle infielder.

Unfielded Triple Play

George Will, a political columnist and baseball enthusiast, proposed a hypothetical scenario where a triple play could happen without any fielder touching the ball. In this scenario, with runners on first and second and no outs, the batter hits an infield fly and is automatically out, resulting in one out. The runner from first passes the runner from second and is called out for that infraction, resulting in two outs. Finally, the falling ball hits the runner from second, who is called out for interference, resulting in three outs. 

According to MLB rule book section 10.09, whenever a batter or runner is out without a fielder touching the ball, automatic putouts are assigned by the official scorer. In this case, the first out would be credited to whoever the official scorer believes would have had the best chance of catching the infield fly, while the second and third outs would be credited to the fielder(s) closest to the points the runners were when their respective outs occurred. 

Although this has never happened in a Major League game, Texas League Hall of Famer Keith Bodie claims that this event occurred in a 1986 spring training game. It is possible for the same fielder, such as the shortstop, to be credited with all three putouts, resulting in an unassisted triple play without having touched the ball.

Hyphens Are Throws Or ‘Assists’

The scoring system in baseball utilizes hyphens between numbers to indicate assists, which signify a throw. In a 5-4-3 double play, the third and second basemen receive assists, while the first baseman is credited with an official putout. Assists, putouts, and errors play a role in determining the defensive statistics of professional baseball players. 

The introduction of numbers was intended to simplify the task of official scorers in keeping track of a game. Those familiar with a baseball scorebook are aware that the small squares representing each out or hit are barely large enough to accommodate the notation of 5-4-3, along with the letters “DP” and the circled numbers 1 and 2 (or 3 for a triple play) to indicate the number of outs recorded on the play. 

Conclusion for What Is A 5-4-3 Triple Play?

The 5-4-3 triple play in baseball is a fascinating play that involves coordinated efforts from players at positions 5, 4, and 3 on the field, resulting in three outs in a single continuous play. This play, also known as the “around the horn” play, is the most common type of triple play, comprising over 50% of recorded triple plays in MLB history. The rarity of triple plays adds to their excitement, and the 5-4-3 variant stands out as a remarkable play executed by players working in unison.

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