BOSTON -- The situation was one that every third baseman dreams about. For Jed Lowrie it happened on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, resulting in the first triple play turned by the Red Sox since July 8, 1994.
There were runners on first and second and nobody out in the top of the fourth, and Tampa Bay's Sean Rodriguez was at the plate.
Just before the memorable moment unfolded, Lowrie had told himself that if Rodriguez hit him a grounder, he would step on the bag and then fire to first for the double play.
But the ball was hit so crisp and at such an opportune spot, Lowrie rightly relied on instincts and diverted from his original plan.
All Lowrie had to do was take about a step to his right to tag the bag for the force there. He then fired to Dustin Pedroia for the easy out at second. Pedroia had no trouble getting the throw to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in time to complete the 5-4-3 triple play. Rodriguez was retired by a step, and the packed house at Fenway let out a deafening roar.
"I got a two-hopper to my right side, and it just set up perfect for a triple play," said Lowrie following his team's 6-2 loss to the Rays.
Lowrie, who is 27 years old, has been playing baseball practically since he could walk. How rare was it for him to be a part of a triple play?
"That's the first one I've ever seen, let alone been a part of," Lowrie said.
He'll have a keepsake to remember it. When the Red Sox came in between innings, the crowd still roaring, Gonzalez took the ball out of his mitt and presented it to Lowrie.
"The fans got a good kick out of it," Gonzalez said. "For us, it was just great to get out of the inning. You go from first and second no outs to being out of the inning in one pitch, it was great."
Though triple plays are indeed a rarity, the one the Sox turned was the second in as many days in the Majors. The Brewers turned a 4-6-3-2 triple play against the Dodgers on Monday.
The last time two triple plays had been turned in the Majors in such a short period of time also involved the Red Sox, and it happened at Fenway Park. On the night of July 17, 1990, Boston hit into two triple plays, but beat the Twins, 1-0.
The next instance when triple plays were turned so closely together was May 22-23, 1981, by the Mariners and Indians.
For the Red Sox, this was the 29th triple play in franchise history, one of them turned as the Boston Americans (1901), according to SABR.
The one in July 1994 was against the Mariners at Fenway, and it was of the unassisted variety, by shortstop John Valentin. That unique feat trumped the Major League debut by Alex Rodriguez.
When Lowrie helped start Tuesday's triple play, the Red Sox were trailing, 2-1, in Game 2 of a day-night doubleheader.
"At the time of the game, it's a big play of the game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's first and second and nobody out, they've got a chance to extend it and all of a sudden the inning's over. We got off the field. It really cuts into the pitch count [for Erik Bedard]. Probably gets him an extra inning to pitch."
Bedard went on to pitch six innings, allowing seven hits and three runs, just one of them earned.
"Yeah, I think the triple play, it's probably the first time I've seen it," Bedard said. "I've seen it on TV, but to happen when I'm at the ballpark and actually when I'm pitching, it's pretty rare, so it was fun."
Though Lowrie's primary position is shortstop, he played third in this one so that Kevin Youkilis could get the night off.
Once the ball left his bat, Rodriguez ran as hard as he could, but had a sinking feeling.
"It got to him right at the bag," Rodriguez said. "He wasn't playing too far off so it was just catch, step and throw. It wasn't catch, run, step, throw."
Following the Brewers' triple play on Monday night against the Dodgers, Boston's sets up the possibility of a supremely rare occurrence: triple plays on three successive days. The only time that's happened in the Major Leagues was May 29-31, 1927, with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers doing the honors.
A triple play is one of those baseball occurrences an observer never forgets.
"Last time I saw that, I was a roving instructor in Palm Springs, California. Bob Boone on rehab, same play," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Booney had less speed than Rodriguez, but it was déjà vu all over again.
"It was hit in the perfect spot. It was a double play, but he was able to step on third base and just makes it a triple play. It was just the imperfect storm for us. It was just in the right spot. He was playing a stop off the bag and he hits it on the bag. Basically it's kind of like a 5-4-3 double play and he just got the bonus out at third."