MILWAUKEE – The ball came off Luis Urias’ bat, headed down the third base line and bounced directly to a charging Maikel Franco, at which point anybody watching immediately must’ve had the same thought.
Could this be a triple play?
And when Franco stepped on third, fired to second and watched as teammate César Hernández made a smooth turn to get the ball to Josh Bell at first base in plenty of time to retire Urias, it almost felt too good to be true.
Has a triple play in a big league game ever looked as easy as the 5-4-3 triplet-killing the Nationals pulled off during Friday night’s loss to the Brewers?
“It’s not easy,” Franco insisted afterward. “But you know, sometimes the play tells you what you have to do. I know I’ve been on the line and the ball was (hit) hard on the line, and I just catch the ball and I think about go to second, and César made the good turn.”
It was only the second triple play in club history, and the first of the conventional, around-the-horn variety. The only other time the Nationals recorded three outs on one batted ball came July 29, 2016 in San Francisco, when Ryan Zimmerman snagged a line drive, stepped on first and then threw across the diamond to Anthony Rendon at third base for the final out.
That was the first 3-5 triple play in major league history. This was not the first 5-4-3 triple play, but that didn’t make it any less special for those who witnessed it.
“That was pretty awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said. “As soon as he hit the ball there, right away you think triple play. All of a sudden, half the play is catching it and the other half is throwing the ball around the field, and they did a great job."
To be fair, Franco’s throw to second was a bit low, requiring more effort from Hernández. But it’s not like they had done this before.
Remarkably, Franco and Hernández were part of a 5-4-3 triple play with the Phillies on Aug. 7, 2016 in San Diego (only a week after the Zimmerman-Rendon play in San Francisco). And the play looked nearly identical to this one, with a chopper down the line drawing Franco directly toward third base and putting himself in prime position to get the ball around the horn in short order.
“I was just playing on the line, and I played to cover the bunt,” Franco said. “As soon as he hit it to me, I just think about going to second, and I know that I’ve got a shot to get a triple play.”
This play was a godsend to Nationals reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who had gotten himself into a jam issuing back-to-back walks to open the bottom of the seventh. With the Nats trailing 2-0 at the time, the ability not only to get out of the jam but to do so on one pitch left Edwards and others on the roster rejoicing with legitimate emotion.
It wouldn’t impact the final outcome of the game, which saw Milwaukee tack on five runs in the eighth en route to a 7-0 victory. But it still won’t be forgotten, given the rarity of such a moment for this organization.