There's an old baseball axiom which says double plays are "a pitcher's best friend."
That's not so for Bailey Bell, 13, of Trenton. This Wesclin Middle School softball pitcher has buddied up with one of the rarest of all feats the game has to offer.
In an Illinois Junior High School Association Class L regional semifinal game on Sept. 22, her defense turned not one, but two triple plays behind her. Not only that, the Warriors did it in consecutive innings.
"All I really knew about triple plays is that they don't happen very often," said Bell. "I thought, 'oh my gosh, this is awesome.'"
In the nearly quarter of a million games played over the 149 years that baseball has been a professional sport, only 706 triple plays have been recorded. That includes the 11 major league teams have turned this season. The only thing more rare is a perfect game.
But two triple plays in one game? It's only happened once — the Minnesota Twins did it in the fourth and eighth innings of their July 17, 1990 game with the Boston Red Sox.
All I really knew about triple plays is that they don't happen very often. I thought, 'oh my gosh, this is awesome.'
Bailey Bell, middle school pitcher and beneficiary of two triple plays in one game
And in consecutive innings? Two swings of the bat, six outs? Never.
“I told the girls before the game to do the routine plays, but somebody do something spectacular for me,” said head coach Tony Behrmann. “They executed those plays exactly as we drew them up.”
This is how the Wesclin girls pulled it off:
In fourth inning, a Carlyle batter lifted a high fly ball to deep center, which outfielder Kenadi Barriger was able to run down. But the runners on first and second broke on contact. Barriger made a perfect throw to second baseman Emily Ottensmeier, who then threw to first baseman Hailey Rakers to get easy force outs.
For those keeping score, mark that a 9-4-3.
"I was really excited and really in shock," said Bell of her view of the play from the pitcher's circle. "The runners didn't go back to their base. I think they thought we dropped the ball. I completely missed the plays at second and first.
"I saw it happen, but couldn't really process it."
Then in the fifth, Carlyle put runners on second and third with none out.
The throw at third was a closer play. My first thought was she's safe and now I have to deal with a runner at third.
Bailey Bell, on the second triple play her defense turned behind her
The inning's third batter tapped one back to Bell, who looked the runner back to third base before getting the easy force out to Rakers at first base. The runner from third attempted to score on the throw, however.
Wesclin catcher Abby Oster received the throw from Rakers, put the tag on the runner, then fired to third baseman Georgia Litteken to nip the runner who tried to advance from second.
Score that one 1-3-2-5.
"The throw at third was a closer play. My first thought was she's safe and now I have to deal with a runner at third," Bell said. "Our third baseman told me she was out and that's what the umpire said. It was really cool."
From the Warriors' standpoint, the only thing uncool about the game was the outcome: Carlyle won 6-2.
A Real Rarity
There have been nearly 250,000 professional baseball games played since 1867. In that time, just 706 triple plays have been recorded, making it the rarest occurrence in the game, other than a perfect game. Here are some particularly memorable triple plays, as compiled by the Society of American Baseball Researchers (SABR):
May 8,1878: Providence Grays center fielder Paul Hines turned the first unassisted triple play in major-league history — although that fact remains in dispute among historians. Click here to read the SABR Games Project story about it by Kathy Torres.
July 15,1902: Harry O'Hagan of the New York Giants recorded the third out of a 1-4-3 triple play turned against Cincinnati. O'Hagan subsequently was sent to the minors (Rochester, Eastern League) and he turned an unassisted triple play as a first baseman a month later, on Aug. 18, against Jersey City. (Credit: Frank Hamilton, Paul Wendt)
July 7,1920: Art Fletcher was put out in a triple play twice in one season (May 22 and July 7,1920) for two different teams — the only player to have that distinction. (Credit: Frank Hamilton)
June 7, 1908: The Detroit Tigers turned triple plays against the Boston Red Sox on two consecutive days (June 6-7). Detroit's Germany Schafer started both of them (once as a third baseman and then as a second baseman). Boston's Gavvy Cravath batted into the first one and was on base for the second one.
Sept. 26,1927: Washington Senators batter Joe Judge hit into a triple play and was not charged with a time at bat. It was a sacrifice fly. (Credit: John Schwartz)
Sept. 19,1929: St. Louis Browns second baseman Ski Melillo made all three continuous putouts, but did not receive credit for the unassisted triple play against Washington Senators. The batted ball first struck pitcher George Blaeholder, and was scored 1-4-4-4. (Credit: John Schwartz)
July 17,1990: The Minnesota Twins became the first team to turn two triple plays in the same game against the Boston Red Sox in the fourth and eighth innings.
April 14, 2002: Seattle's Ron Wright had three at-bats in his first major league game. He struck out in the second, hit into a 1-6-2-5-1-4 triple play in the fourth, then hit into a double play in the sixth for possibly the worst-ever major league career. (Credit: Jeff Wayman)
Sept. 2, 2006: Tampa Bay's 2-6-2 triple play against Seattle is the first triple play where the catcher (Dioner Navarro) made the first and third outs.
May 30, 2008: San Francisco reliever Keiichu Yabu entered a 3-3 game with runners on first and second and nobody out. San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff swung at the first pitch, and into a 5-4-3 triple play, making it a one-pitch, three-out inning for Yabu. (Credit: Dan Comfort)
May 9, 2015: Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker started and ended the first 4-5-4 triple play in major league history against the St. Louis Cardinals in the second inning.