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Anatomy of a weird triple play

Yankees third baseman Kevin Youkilis, left, tags out

Yankees third baseman Kevin Youkilis, left, tags out Baltimore Orioles' Alexi Casilla for the second out of a triple play during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. (April 12, 2013) Credit: AP

The Yankees on Friday night pulled off an unprecedented feat -- baseball's first 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play. It came in the eighth inning of their 5-2 win over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

It was the Yankees' first triple play at home since June 3, 1968, and only their second overall since 1969.

Friday's pitcher, CC Sabathia, also was on the mound during the Yankees' previous triple play: a more conventional 5-4-3 around-the-horn job started by Alex Rodriguez on April 22, 2010, against Oakland's Kurt Suzuki.

The last one in the Bronx? Pitcher Dooley Womack fielded a line drive hit by Minnesota's Johnny Roseboro and threw to third baseman Bobby Cox, who doubled off Tony Oliva. Cox fired to first baseman Mickey Mantle, who recorded the out against Bob Allison. It happened on a Monday night with 7,238 people in the stands.

Friday's feat was remarkable because of how the Yankees did it, with a quick catch-and-flip by Robinson Cano, a daring decision by third-string shortstop Jayson Nix and excellent rundown throws by Nix, Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay.

Here's a breakdown of the historic play with help from Yankees infield coach Mick Kelleher, who drills his infielders for umpteen hours in spring training on rundown scenarios. But not triple-play scenarios.

"We don't really practice that,'' Kelleher said Saturday.

The situation

The Yankees led 5-2 when Alexi Casilla and Nick Markakis opened the eighth inning with singles to put runners on first and second. Manny Machado was the batter.

Kelleher: “We were sitting in trouble. Up 5-2. Runner at first and second. All of a sudden, ‘Bam!’ About 20 seconds later, we’re out of the inning.’’

The first out

Machado hit a low line drive to second baseman Cano, who caught it on a short hop. He flipped backhanded to Nix at second to force Markakis for out No. 1.

Kelleher: “You can’t anticipate the ball being hit like that, so it’s just a reaction. You know there’s first and second, nobody out, and you know what the baserunners have to do on a line drive: They can’t go anywhere.’’

The decision

After catching Cano’s flip, Nix — who entered the game in the third inning after Eduardo Nuñez was hit in the right wrist with a pitch — immediately turned and fired to third baseman Youkilis to trap the lead runner even though there now was no force play in effect. In doing so, Nix passed up a sure double play if he had thrown to first.

Kelleher: “The triple play happened because of what Nixie did at second base on the pivot. Because if you just complete the double play at first base, that would have been the easiest thing. But to have that wherewithal to be thinking about getting the runner at third base is awesome.’’

The first rundown and second out

Youkilis caught the ball at the base with Casilla only halfway to third. After a moment of hesitation, Youkilis threw back to Nix, who ran Casilla back toward third before throwing again to Youkilis. The third baseman chased down Casilla and tagged him for the second out. As Casilla hit the dirt, Youkilis’ momentum kept him going in the direction of first base. He looked up to locate Machado.

Kelleher: “I can’t think of anything you could do any different. With rundowns, you try to close the distance down. But if the guy’s too far from you, you’ve got to give the ball up. Nix had to give it up to Youk, Youk had to bring him back, Nixie closed the distance down. Then the tag made by Youkilis.’’

The second rundown and third out

Much to the Yankees’ delight, Machado was about halfway to second but stopped when he saw Youkilis coming. Youkilis threw on the run to Overbay at first. Overbay, without time to move toward home plate to create a throwing lane to the shortstop side of the runner, fired a difficult throw to Cano to the second-base side of second to nip the sliding Machado.

Kelleher: “Youk made the throw on the run like he was making a slow-roller play over to first base. And don’t forget Lyle on his throw. That was a tough throw with the runner right in line. It took all four of our infielders to pull that triple play off.’’

The reaction

Machado slammed his batting helmet to the ground as Cano raised his arms in triumph and jumped around with Sabathia, Youkilis and the rest of the infield all the way to the dugout, where some vigorous high-fiving commenced. The crowd of 35,033 that had sat through frigid temperatures knew they had seen something special.

Kelleher: “We were all jumping up and down. Hootin’ and hollerin’. There’s nothing better than an exciting defensive play to me. That can spark a club just like a game-winning home run.’'

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