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Seeing the White Sox's incredible triple play from both sides

CHICAGO -- Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field gave baseball fans, keyboard-clacking wretches in the press box, the players on the field and the people in the dugout something they’d never seen before: A 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play with the bases loaded. Between the Texas Rangers who hit into it and the Chicago White Sox who completed it, you can thank all sorts of people for this unique bit of baseball mayhem.

Thank Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland for making great contact and hitting a screaming liner to right field, where Adam Eaton made a great play running it down before firing it to first base. Thank the Rangers baserunners, Ian Desmond at first base, Adrian Beltre at second, Prince Fielder at third, for playing an aggressive brand of baseball that has been paying off for the Rangers more often than not. Thank Jose Abreu for taking the ball from Eaton to get Desmond and alertly throw home, because not every first baseman is that kind of athlete. And then thank the White Sox for delivering on a thousand spring training rundown drills once they’d caught both Beltre and Fielder leaning to give us something not you or I or anybody on the field had ever seen.

Perhaps predictably, Eaton was pretty stoked after the game, while Rangers manager Jeff Banister was a bit clinical about it the morning after.

Banister couldn’t avoid seeing the play again and again, and not just in his nightmares overnight, noting, “I couldn’t help it. It was on the 'Today' show, on ESPN, it was on 'Good Morning America' …

“There’s no feel-good about that. We’re an aggressive baserunning ballclub. When you look at our club, we’re among the top three in baseball in bases taken by being aggressive. Sometimes with being aggressive there are, there’s a little pain that comes along with it, because there are situations where you get caught.”

Eaton was predictably exultant, exclaiming, “Besides marrying my wife and the birth of my kid, to be honest with you that’s high up there. It’s unbelievable, I’ve never had that much fun on a ball field. … I’m very confident of that -- I’ve never had that much fun on a ballfield.”

Banister was less appreciative of the moment. “I’m not a fan, I’m the manager,” Banister said. “I don’t distance myself from being the manager. Do I look at the play and say, ‘What did we do right, what did we do wrong, what happened?’ Absolutely. That’s three veteran, well-experienced baserunners, that read the ball that was hit exactly the same, thinking it was going to be a base hit.”

Reflecting on his catch of Moreland’s liner and his throw, Eaton was especially appreciative of Jose Abreu’s play at first base to retire Desmond and then get the rundown started.

“I got a good jump on it. As soon as it kind of going towards the corner, I could see Des [Ian Desmond] out of the corner of my eye break, so as soon as I caught that I knew that Jose [Abreu] was going to be at first to hopefully get the double play.”

His throw to Abreu didn’t make it easier, though. “I cut the crap out of the ball, and I’m glad Jose could keep it in front of him,” Eaton said. “Desmond is pretty athletic, and for Jose to do that and then to sense to throw it home right away?”

“[Desmond] was running as fast back to first base as I’ve ever seen any one in my life,” Banister said. “He couldn’t get his parachute out fast enough. And then the dance [of the rundown], we just couldn’t recover.”

That’s because the White Sox had Fielder hung up between third and home and Beltre between second and third, setting up the rundown to get the third out because of Abreu’s alertness.

“[To] kind of find out that Beltre and Fielder were kind of going back and forth there?” Laughing, Eaton added, “It was something kind of special.

“Once we got Fielder in the rundown, we’ve worked on those rundowns so much, because we did poor in the past, so we’re like, ‘Oh boy, if we screw this up now, we’re really going to hear it, if we screw up this rundown’” Eaton noted. “So it was really nice to finish off that play.”

Dissecting what his baserunners did and were trying to do, Banister walked through the play, starting from where his baserunners were and what they were trying to do: “Aggressive at first base, probably initially in a comfortable position at second base, and at third base moving down the line, assuming, thinking that it’s going to be a hit. If anything, a no-out situation, ball in the air, [at] third base your first reaction is to make sure that it does hit the ground before you vacate [the base]. First base probably, if you’re in that middle ground, understanding that where it’s going in front of you. But I’m not going to criticize that they all read it the same.”

Taking a step back, Banister evaluated the difference between what the Rangers were trying to do down 5-0 with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, and what you’re supposed to do in the abstract.

“If you’re going to design a classroom on how -- in theory -- that play works, it’s still a line drive, a well-hit, top-spin line drive, which the topspin on the ball is kind of what allowed the ball to be caught instead of over the head,” Banister noted. “But in theory, runners put themselves into position. At first base, if it’s caught, you’re not tagging on that play. You’re not going to get to second base, you’re going to put yourself into position that if that ball hits, you continue on to the next base. Second base, close enough, he’s running, if he misses it, you’ve got an opportunity to score, if he makes the catch, you go back and tag and make it to third base, because [Eaton] is going to have to stop, redirect himself and throw back, so at least you have the opportunity to get back to third base. Runner at third base, freeze, and go back to be in position to tag and go, but if he drops it, you score easily.

“That’s in theory; all three of them read it the same way,” Banister observed, mulling the outcome before turning the page, the way every manager and every player has had to after a bad day or night at the office.

“We move on,” Banister said. “It does not look good, it does feel good for anybody other than the White Sox and the White Sox fans. Theory does not always work on the baseball field. Classroom sessions do not always work on a major league baseball field, because there are super-talented players who do make great plays.”