What is a triple play in baseball? What about softball?
1-5-6-3, 6-4-3-5, 9-3-5 Triple Play! Do any of these sound familiar?
If you have been around the game of baseball for a while, you have probably heard the term “triple play.”
If you are new to the game, there is a good chance that this term may sound like a foreign language.
That’s because a triple play is a very rare occurrence, and if you are not around the game too often, there’s a good chance you have never heard it, much less had an opportunity to see one take place.
In this article, we will go over exactly what a triple play is and go through some scenarios that result in a triple play.
What is a triple play in baseball?
“A triple play occurs when the defending team records three outs on a single defensive play.” MLB Baseball
A successful triple play is achieved when the defense is able to record all 3 outs needed to complete the defensive half of an inning in one continuous play.
Why are Triple Plays Rare?
- There must be no outs
- There must be a least 2 runners already on base
- Most always need runners advancing in force out situations
- Most always need a line drive to a defensive player
The most common form of a triple play begins with a hard line drive at an infielder with runners advancing and the fielders either tag the runner or touch the base for a force out on advancing runners. Ground-ball triple plays happen but are less common because three plays need to be made after the ball is fielded. A slow batter usually helps and other patterns can involve multiple runners getting caught in rundowns. Interestingly, most double plays occur on ground balls and most triple plays occur from line drives.
A 5-4-3 triple play is when a grounder is hit to the third baseman, who steps on third base to force out the runner coming from second (first out). The third baseman throws to the second baseman, who steps on second base to force out the runner coming from first (second out). The second baseman throws to the first baseman, with the throw arriving in time to force out the batter (third out). This is also known as an “around the horn” triple play.
The rarest kind of triple plays is an unassisted triple play where one player records all three outs in one play. It’s only happened fifteen times in MLB history.
Has There Ever Been a Quadruple Play?
It is possible to get 4 outs in an inning so theoretically it is possible however extremely unlikely and there are no recorded instances of it ever happening anywhere.
Here is a scenario in which it would be possible:
- Must to be bases are loaded with no outs.
- A fly ball is hit to the outfield which looks like it will fall in.
- All baserunners advance quickly from their bases while the outfield makes unlikely out number 1.
- The outfielder then throws the ball to second base to catch the runner off base for out number 2.
- The ball is then thrown to first base to catch another runner off base for out number 3.
- During this time the runner on third scored without tagging up.
- The ball is then thrown to third base to to get the runner who scored for out number 4.
- The rules of baseball allow for a “fourth out” to prevent the run from scoring.
- The fourth out supersedes the third out and thus would be a quadruple play.
Scenarios for a triple play:
If you are not familiar with position numbers, take a minute to read my article on Simple Baseball Rules. That article will give you a good overview of some basic baseball rules, including position names and the numbers assigned to each.
Before we get started running through some triple play scenarios, it’s important to know that each player on the field has a specific “player position number.”
Next, we will run through some scenarios that result in a triple play. These will give you a much better understanding of what a triple play really is.
These scenarios can be directly translated to softball as well.
So without further ado, let’s jump right in.
1-5-6-3 Triple Play
Okay, here’s the set up:
The first batter of the inning has safely reached first base with a single.
The second batter reaches first base when the pitcher issued 4 balls, forcing the first batter to 2nd base.
We now have runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs.
The pitcher delivers the pitch to the 3rd batter of the inning, who hits a ground ball directly back to the pitcher (position #1).
The pitcher immediately throws the ball to the third baseman (position #5), who touches third base before the runner coming from 2nd base. That’s out number one!
The 3rd baseman then throws the ball ball to the short stop (position #6), who touches 2nd base before the runner coming from first. That’s out number 2!
The short stop then throws the ball to the first baseman (position #3), who touches 1st base before the runner coming from home. That’s out number 3!
The defense has successfully turned a 1-5-6-3 triple play!
As you can imagine, the 1-5-6-3 triple play is a very difficult play for the defense to achieve.
It requires immediate and precise action for each of the players involved in the play and it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of slow runners. 🙂
Next up, we will get a little tricky and add a necessary “tag” to complete a triple play.
6-4-3-5 Triple Play
Let’s go with the same set up:
Runners are already on 1st and 2nd with no outs.
The pitcher delivers the pitch and the batter hits a sharp ground ball to the short stop (position #6).
The short stop quickly throws the ball to the 2nd baseman (position #4), who touches 2nd base before the runner coming from first. That’s out number 1!
The 2nd baseman immediately throws the ball to the 1st baseman (position #3), who touches 1st base before the runner coming from home. That’s out number 2!
The 1st baseman then throws the ball to the 3rd baseman (position #5), who tags the runner before they reach 3rd base. That’s out number 3!
The defense has successfully completed a triple play!
A 6-4-3-5 triple play will require near perfect execution by all players.
Strong throwing arms by each player is also vital, especially the 1st baseman who has to throw all the way back across the infield to the 3rd baseman to complete the play.
And again, a couple of slower runners somewhere in the mix won’t hurt.
Oh yeah, if you’re wondering why the 3rd baseman has to tag the runner coming from 2nd to complete the triple play, go back to the beginning of the play.
When the 2nd baseman touched 2nd base for the first out, the “force out” at 3rd base was eliminated. If our original runner on 2nd base decides to still try to make it to 3rd, the defense will need to apply a “tag”.
What about the outfielders? Can they be a part of a triple play?
Next up, we will get one of the outfielders involved in a triple play.
It’s going to get a little more tricky with this one, as we are going to involve runners trying to “tag up,” and a tag.
If you are not familiar with tagging up, just keep in mind that when a ball is hit in the air, runners must return to their original base after the ball is caught before they try to advance to the next base.
I will write a more in depth article on “tagging up” soon… Promise 🙂
9-3-5 Triple Play
Let’s stick with our original set up:
Runners are already on 1st and 2nd with 0 outs.
The pitcher delivers the pitch and the batter hits a fly ball to the right fielder (position #9), who makes a great diving catch. That’s out number 1!
Our runner on first didn’t think the right fielder was going to make the catch, so he wondered a little too far away from 1st base.
After making the catch, our right fielder immediately throws the ball to the first baseman (position #3), who touches 1st base before the runner can get back to the bag. That’s out #2!
Now our runner on second sees that the right fielder has a chance to make the catch and quickly gets back to touch 2nd base to “tag up” and try to make it to 3rd.
Our strong armed 1st baseman fires the ball to the 3rd baseman (position #5), who is able to apply a tag on the runner coming from 2nd base. That’s out number 3!
The defense has successfully completed a 9-3-5 triple play!
What is a triple play in baseball? Some final words.
A triple play is one of the hardest and most exciting plays that the defense can achieve.
There are literally hundreds of different ways they can happen.
Check out the video below for some great triple plays form around baseball.
Often times, a triple play occurs when runners are simply too slow to beat the throws made by the defense, or even more commonly, the runners commit some kind of base running miscue.
But sometimes, the defense is just that damn good!
If you are curious about what a double play is and would like to check out some double play scenarios, check out What is a double play in baseball
I hope you have enjoyed this article on What is a triple play in baseball. If you have any questions or comments about this article, or anything else, please do leave a comment below. I love talking baseball and helping everyone understand and enjoy the game a little better.
Thanks for stopping by ~Jeremy
P.S. The new season is right around the corner.