Monday, August 3, 2009

A Triple For The Ages

In a sport with a boatload of arbitrary stats and quirky accomplishments, the cycle stands out as perhaps the most contrived of them all. It's not like a perfect game/no-hitter, where the end goal is the best possible outcome. If Melky Cabrera had hit two homers, a double and walked once it would have equal or greater value but wouldn't have met the narrow definition of a cycle and therefore would been remembered as a great individual game, but not recorded in the annals of baseball history.

As Mike from RAB pointed out last night, cycles occur about as often as no-hitters, but are in fact much rarer considering only one pitcher per team has a chance to throw a no-hitter in each game, whereas nine batters per team have a chance at a cycle. Coincidentally, there have been roughly the same amount of "natural" cycles, which is achieved by hitting 1B, 2B, 3B, HR in order (14), as there have been perfect games (18). Only three players have ever hit for more than two cycles, Babe Herman, Bob Meusel and John Reilly, with three apiece.

Despite the fact that a cycle doesn't have a perfect correlation to value within the context of the game, Melky's triple in the 9th inning was one of the most exciting moments of the season, in my eyes. So often, we hear the announcers point out that a player is "only a triple short of the cycle" when of course even a great triples hitter would only have maybe a 1 in 50 or 60 chance to hit one in that specific plate appearance. The odds were considerably longer for Melky, who hadn't hit a triple in over a year and before that not since August 25, 2007. That's one three-bagger in over 850 PAs... you do the math.

Just last week it appeared that Robinson Cano had a pretty good chance at a cycle, when he had notched a triple and a home run by the sixth inning. Alas, he did get two more plate appearances but only managed to walk and fly out to center. For him, walking twice in the same game was quite rare, but Tony Fernandez's 14 year old achievement still stood.

Until yesterday. Over the 289 cycles that have been recorded I'm guessing that Melky's .381 WPA would rank pretty high up on that list. The Yankees' offense as a whole only contributed .457. He drove in four runs and scored three, directly contributing to the 6 of the Yankees' 8 runs. He put them up 3-0 with a 3 run homer in the second, scored the tying run in the 4th after Sabathia gave back the lead, put the Yanks ahead 5-4 in the 5th with a single and scored a big insurance run in the 9th, stretching the lead from 2 to 3.

Michael Kay said that the game was "too close to take a chance" in reference to going for a triple on a ball hit into the gap when Melky was up in the 9th, but the Melk Man motored into third and beat the throw by the slimmest of margins.

Baseball has a lot of quiet moments in between pitches, innings and at bats. There are a lot of lopsided games where the outcomes are seemingly already determined in the ninth inning. It's not often that a play in baseball reaches such an extended crescendo, with a 270 foot sprint, capped by a slide successful by only a split second. Remember this one because they might be mentioning it during Yankees games for a long, long time.


  1. Melky looked like he dogged it a bit out of the box on the triple, then turned it on heading in to first. I think he said he realized he needed the triple at that point, perhaps leading to the extra giddy-up.

    Loath as I am to agree with Michael Kay, the game was still in question at that point, and it was a bit of a risky move to stretch for three just to fulfill a meaningless individual accomplishment. But, if a runner is going to try to get to third, doing it with one out and the 8 & 9 hitters due is about the best scenario to try it.

  2. You have to go for the 3B in that. And I usually am more of the conservative absolutely-never-swing-at-3-and-0 school of thought, but in this situation...what would the Yankee viewing world have done if, with a hit like that, in the 9th inning, Melky stayed put at 2B? The overriding sentiment of complacency and sterility would be worse (for me) than if he had been called out in that close a game. Like my dad used to tell me right before I batted in little league, "Far better to dare mighty things are risk failure than to live in the grey twilight that knows neither darkness nor dawn."

  3. Who was your dad, T.S. Elliot?

    There's no way Melky was stopping there. There's no way anyone who's not Jorge Posada or Matsui would either. You only have so many chances to go for the cycle, and it's not like it was the tying run. It might be a "meaningless" accomplishment as far as the game goes, but it's one of those moments that sticks around. Agreed that stopping would have been far worse than getting thrown out.

  4. My dad is certifiable, but awesome. I had no idea what he was talking about for about 90% of my upbringing. He owns a pet cemetery so I think it engenders some melodramatic tendencies.

    Melky is always stretching out extra base hits. Finally it worked out. My absolute favorite was during Memorial Day weekend this year when he started to go to 2nd, tripped / face planted, and had to scamper back to 1st, and they showed Cano in the dugout basically about to go into cardiac arrest from laughing so hard.