Last year, baseball gave us one of the weirdest triple plays ever, a 3-6-2 job that involved much confusion, fits and starts, and a promising rally torched. But what most interested me about this play
was how long it took. The first out, 3 unassisted on a sharp grounder to Mark Trumbo, takes only 1.7 seconds to complete. But with runners on first and third, the situation produces two opportunities for baserunners to stall. First, the runner on first—Kevin Pillar—recognizes that he is going to get thrown out easily at second base, so with the force play off he stops to get hung up in a rundown. At the very least, that'll force the defense to make an extra throw or two, and if he can stall long enough it might allow the runner on third, Ezequiel Carrera, to sneak home. Best case, the defense gets so distracted by Carrera scoring or threatening to score that they lose track of Pillar and he finds another safe spot for himself.
It starts to work! Approximately 4.9 seconds after Trumbo touches first base and throws to second, the Mariners shortstop Brad Miller abandons Pillar and begins running at Carrera, who has… unsuccessfully, I guess, tried to sneak home. Pillar now has free passage to second, while Miller runs at Carrera.
But now it's Carrera who has to stall, so that Pillar can take third base. So he stands there for approximate 6.8 seconds until Miller throws the ball home, by which point Pillar is safe at third. There is no longer any point in throwing the baseball again–Carrera has nowhere to go if the catcher keeps the ball–so Mike Zunino pursues the trapped baserunner with supreme leisure. It takes him 4.3 seconds to reach the base, at which point Carrera and Pillar are standing on the same base. Pillar, the trailing runner, is automatically out. The second out has taken, approximately, 16 seconds to record.
But the play is not done! Confused who is and isn't out, Carrera, perhaps spooked by his third base coach warning him to stay on the bag, suddenly gets his feet tangled and falls off the bag. Zunino had his glove on Carrera while Carrera was on the bag, but has removed it by the time that Carrera releases the base, and so Zunino has to retag him. That takes another 3.3 seconds from the time Zunino arrived at third base, and, finally, after what I calculate to be 21.04 seconds, three outs are made and no baserunners remain. A moment later the umpire makes it official: The third out.
So, 21.04 seconds. Is it even possible for a baseball play to last longer? It takes only about 15 seconds for a player to score an inside-the-park home run, so even if, for instance, the right fielder broke his leg chasing a ball into the corner, and the center fielder broke his leg on his way to help out, the play would be long "over" before 21 seconds ticked off.
You probably remember the Ruben Rivera play–the worst baserunning in the history of the game, as Jon Miller famously said. In that play, a flyball into deep right center field rolled all the way to the wall; when it was finally recovered, Ruben Rivera got hung up in a rundown; he escaped it when the throw went wild, and then stood up to try to score before getting thrown out at home. A play that took an eternity. Or, actually, 19.33 seconds. Not 21.04.
I mean, 21.04 seconds is so long. This Josh Harrison rundown, one of the greatest escapes I've ever seen, with more than 2.5 bonus seconds for Harrison's false start toward home, comes in at 18.29.
Which is a long time, but not 21.04 seconds.
So, this is my call to you: If you see a play you think might have taken longer, I want you to tell me. Tweet me, email me, leave a comment here–any will work. I'll continue to update this post, forever, with either plays that have already happened or with plays that are still to come. For all time. Let's beat 21.04.
Rules: Timing starts when the ball reaches the plate–either the catcher's glove or the batter's bat. It stops when the last baserunner is either standing on a base, or has ceased attempting to advance, and the defense is no longer in pursuit of him. So, for instance: Harrison had to hustle back into the base on that last play. So, for him, perhaps generously, we're saying the play didn't end until he was back safely. If he had simply rounded the bag and, in no peril, walked back to the base, it would have ended upon his final step toward his next base.
Umpires actions are not part of the clock. If the umpires take 48 minutes to decide whether the runner was out or safe, it doesn't matter; all the matters is how much time the baserunners spent attempting to advance and the defense spent attempting to chase them down. If a runner is tagged out, and the umpire signals "out" a half-second later, the clock stops on the tag, not the out call. If a ball leaves the field of play, no matter what else happens, the clock stops.
MLB plays only for the official record, but longer plays from other levels or leagues are welcome to be noted.
Update, Aug. 5, 2016: 2015 Seattle Mariners Triple Play could hold the record for only a few minutes. Shortly after publication, @BravesStats came through with this play,
from Sept. 8, 2014, which checks in at (by my watch) 23.59 seconds. The first error most likely leads directly to the third, as A.J. Ellis had to rush back into his position at home, giving Hanley Ramirez no real target for final throw home. Meanwhile, as the errors accumulated Clayton Kershaw had to rush from backing up third to backing up home, setting up the final leg of the play when he couldn't save the errant throw–and, further, when A.J. Ellis had to then chase it down. Had the final baserunner stopped at third the play would have stalled out at about 20 seconds. But he didn't! New record!
But Dodgers Three-Error Play could itself hold the record only a few minutes. Thanks to kcshankd, in the comments, we have this play from April 22 of this year, checking in at
The low-key hero in this is probably Ian Desmond, who adds 3.4 seconds—crucial to breaking the record—merely by avoiding Jose Abreu's first couple tags at first base. The other low-key hero is Prince Fielder, for being the one person in this play who has no idea what he's supposed to do. Once Adrian Beltre committed to third base, and the White Sox had him trapped in that direction, Fielder's only play would be to move toward home as quickly as possible, which would have accelerated the end stage of this play. Instead, he stands and watches for approximately 3.2 seconds before he ever turns toward home. It almost certainly didn't matter for the Rangers' chances of escaping the situation—it would have forced a slightly longer throw for the infielder, and might have started the final rundown before the rest of the White Sox could get in position for that rundown–but it definitely mattered for the length of this play. So here we are: The record, as of Friday, 8/5/16.