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Rays and Cardinals Down To Last Chance for Wild-Card Spot

by Josh Kipnis

“Triple” is not the most common word in baseball.  Any hitter will tell you that a triple is the hardest stat to check off the list.  And for a defensive player, a triple play is just about unheard of.

This year’s wild card race had been a rarity of its own, as the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays each attempt to mount monumental comebacks in their hopes towards a playoff berth.  Which is why it should be no surprise that “triple” was the keyword for success last night.

Ryan Theriot hit a pinch-hit, 2-run triple in the top of the seventh inning to give St. Louis their first lead of the night over the Houston Astros.  The triple was Theriot’s first of the year. 

Leading 6-5 at that point, the Cardinals continued to rely on their bench for runs, leading St. Louis to a 13-6 victory.  Nick Punto started in place of injured shortstop, Rafael Furcal, going 4 for 5 with 2 RBI.  Allen Craig, who replaced Matt Holliday in the third inning, went 2 for 3 with a HR and 4 RBI.   “I think we’re just so focused on the day at hand,” Craig said.  “We focus on our job that day…We’re going to give it our best shot.”

With the Phillies beating the Braves as well, St. Louis is finally tied atop the NL wild-card.

“120 years of baseball and this is one of those historic runs to tie,” St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said.  “But there’s a different story between tying and finishing it off…We’ll see if we can go take another step.”

In the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays were unable to take another step forward, but at least they were able to avoid stepping backwards Tuesday night.  With the Red Sox finally winning a baseball game, the Rays had to beat the Yankees to stay tied in the AL wild-card race.

The Rays were pushed back against the ropes when New York OF Nick Swisher hit a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth.  With runners on second and third and no one out, Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon elected to intentionally walk the next batter, setting up force outs at every base.

The infield met on the mound to breakdown the ensuing play.  After explaining what to do in every situation, 3B Evan Longoria turned to 2B Ben Zobrist to give him one more “what if.”  Zobrist remembers the exact words Longoria said to him.  “He said, ‘If it comes to me and I’m close enough to the bag, I’m going to step on it, and let’s turn a triple play.”  Yea…right…

So what happens?  Sure enough, the next batter slaps a ground ball, inches away from third base.  From there, Longoria set his plan into action.  He fields the ball and simultaneously steps on third.  One.  He reaches into his glove and slings the side-armed throw over to Zobrist on second.  Two.  Zobrist instantly makes the turn and guns the ball over to his first baseman.  Three.

Care to buy my next lottery ticket, Mr. Longoria?

It was the third triple play in Tampa Bay Rays franchise history.  “What I was hoping for was maybe a double play and giving up one run,” Maddon said.  “But my God, how do you even envision a triple play.  We were very fortunate with that.  The hit was in a perfect spot.”

The perfect spot, at the perfect time.