TP: Gaetti-Newman-Hrbek (2)

Thirty years ago today, a Tuesday, I was in Boston.

Later in the week, I’d meet up with Mark L, Milind, and Mike, the same three guys I’d traveled with to Fort Worth back in March. Then, we’d vied for the North American Collegiate Bridge Championship (we were eliminated in the semifinals). Now, we were representing District 11 in the non-Life Master division of the Grand National Teams, one of twenty-five teams spanning the U.S. and Canada left competing for the title. In the spring, we had spent a weekend in Peoria, slogging our way through a field of foursomes from across Illinois, northwest Indiana, and St. Louis, hoping to emerge the winner of a trip to the 1990 Summer Nationals. Mike had continued to coach me up across the months, and some of it was actually taking hold. While I was still easily the weak link on the team, I held my cards well enough so that we prevailed without too much worry. The District generously covered our airfare and a couple nights of lodging at the host hotel. I arranged to leave a few days ahead of the others to visit my mother’s cousin and her family, who lived in Wellesley.

Thirty years ago tonight, I was at Fenway Park.

I’ve been fortunate to visit several of baseball’s storied parks over the years. By this point, I’d seen games in Crosley, Wrigley, and Candlestick. I would attend the fourth game ever played at Camden Yards in 1992. In 2005, I’d make a pilgrimage to the first Yankee Stadium. I wouldn’t mind taking road trips someday whose main goal was to expand the list of stadia in which I’ve watched a game. On this trip to Beantown, I must have made a request of my relatives to go see the Sox. Luckily, they were in town, playing host to the Twins. My cousin Sandi and I took the T down to the park, along with a female exchange student from Europe (I don’t recall which country) who was living with some neighbors. Our seats were out in the center-field bleachers–I don’t have a ticket stub, but if I had to guess, I’d say we were either in Section 36 or 37. The pitching match-up was soft-tossing lefty Tom Bolton for the Sox vs. soft-tossing rookie right-hander Scott Erickson for the Twins. I’ve got a soft spot for Erickson–he, along with an up-and-comer named Tom Glavine, anchored the rotation for my third-place 1991 fantasy baseball team.

Thirty years ago, in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Twinkies turned a triple play.

The game was still scoreless when it went walk-double-walk to Wade Boggs, Jody Reed, and Carlos Quintana, bringing former Twin Tom Brunansky to the plate with the sacks jammed. Brunansky grounded sharply to Gary Gaetti at third, who was close enough to the bag to step on it and fire the ball to Al Newman at second, who in turn pivoted quickly enough to Kent Hrbek to nail Brunansky in a bang-bang play at first. I always go to the park hoping to see something unusual; witnessing my first triple play certainly qualified.

Thirty years ago, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Twinkies turned a triple play.

Cincinnati native shortstop Tim Naehring had singled in an unearned run off of Erickson for Boston in the fifth, and the home nine was still up 1-0 as they came up to bat for what they hoped was the last time. Naehring led the frame off with a double against John Candelaria (who amazingly still had three seasons left in his career after this one), and Boggs followed with a walk. Skipper Joe Morgan sent the runners as Jody Reed scorched one down the third base line…straight to Gaetti, who had moved over to cover the bag. Around the horn it went again, much more easily this time. I was agog.

As the Twins came up to face closer Jeff Reardon (who indeed would get the save), the PA announcer informed the crowd that this was the first time in MLB history two triple plays had occurred in the same game. While I don’t know whether I expected that to be the case, it was hardly surprising. In this SABR article about the game, they cite a computation by a mathematics professor who claims the odds of such a feat happening as about 370,000-1. In other words, I shouldn’t expect it to occur again in my (or even my son’s) lifetime.

Other than seeing my son start a game-ending 1-4 triple play in coach-pitch Little League ball, this is (and likely will always be) the coolest baseball feat I’ve witnessed in person.

As for the bridge…alas, we were eliminated in our first match. Mike had graduated in May and would be off to Chicago for law school in another month or so. If we were to try to continue our relative success, we needed to find a new fourth. Fortunately, I’d be forming a fruitful partnership with Chris, an accounting grad student, in the fall.

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