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Padres Got Half of the Play Right

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

5-2-5-1-E 5-6-4.

This is not a telephone number.

Rather, it is the scoring of a very strange play that took place in the third inning of the New York Mets’ 7-3 victory over the Padres Sunday afternoon at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

The play occurred on a defensive maneuver that third baseman Graig Nettles learned while he was with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1970s. In theory, the play is designed to get two outs in a rundown situation with runners on second and third. In spring training this year, Nettles suggested the Padres practice it.

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On Sunday, they had their first opportunity to try it.

And they almost pulled it off. Almost.

However, a dropped throw that resulted in an error charged to Nettles, and some heady baserunning by two Mets resulted in New York taking a 3-2 lead that it never relinquished.

“It was a hell of a play the way we worked it,” said Dick Williams, Padre manager. “Then, he dropped the ball.”

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With one out and Keith Hernandez on second and Wally Backman on third, Gary Carter hit a hard grounder to Nettles.

The fun began.

Backman broke for the plate. Nettles threw to catcher Terry Kennedy, and the rundown was on. With Hernandez racing for third, Kennedy threw back to Nettles, who tagged out the sliding Hernandez.

“For the play to work,” Nettles said, “the catcher has to wait for the guy on second to be on his way to third and for the other runner to be at least half way back to third before throwing the ball.”

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Backman was halfway back to third, and Kennedy was halfway up the third-base line when he made the throw.

With Backman still hung up, pitcher Eric Show covered the plate. Nettles threw to Show, who threw back to Nettles to try to get a retreating Backman.

That’s when the play began to deteriorate.

Nettles dropped Show’s return throw.

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“I never saw the throw until the last two feet,” Nettles said. “Then, it hit me in the shoulder.”

Suddenly, the wheels started turning as the loose ball rolled on the infield dirt. Shortstop Garry Templeton grabbed the ball, looked at Backman as he raced for the plate, and opted to throw to second to try to get the lumbering Carter.

“I knew where the runners were when the ball was dropped,” Templeton said. “I would have had to stop, set, and throw across my body if I went for the runner at home. I didn’t think I had a chance to get him.”

Fans were turning their heads as if they were at a track meet. From third to second to home.

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The race was on.

Second baseman Tim Flannery tagged Carter out just after Backman crossed the plate.

“He crossed the plate just before the out at second,” Kennedy said.

The play ended the inning, and set off more confusion. It took a while for the scoring to be worked out.

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Finally, it was announced. No RBI. It was not a double play. Nettles had to be charged with an error because a run scored. If a run hadn’t scored, it would have just been a fielder’s choice.

“That was a weird play,” said John Cunningham, official scorer. “I haven’t seen a play like that. You might get two guys in a rundown, but you don’t usually see a run score like that.”

That’s for sure.


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