This Victory Triple Good for Dodgers
It was the kind of play the Dodgers make, oh, every 47 years or so.
The Dodgers had seen plenty on TV highlights, even witnessed one five years ago, but hadn’t turned a triple play since April 26, 1949.
Back then, they were the Brooklyn Dodgers. Back then, the Braves were playing in Boston. Back then, the triple-play combination was third baseman Gene Hermanski, second baseman Jackie Robinson and first baseman Gil Hodges.
Shortstop Juan Castro probably won’t be remembered along the lines of Robinson and Hodges in Dodger lore, but the way he figures it, perhaps now he has a shot to surpass Hermanski in popularity.
Castro, making a spectacular basket catch, started the Dodgers’ historic triple play and single-handedly turned the game around, leading the Dodgers to a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of a sellout crowd of 49,726 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on Saturday.
“That was the game right there,” Brave Manager Bobby Cox said. “That was a hell of a catch. I mean it turned around everything. Who knows what happens if he doesn’t catch that ball.”
Castro, from Los Mochis, Mexico, has played solid defense the last three weeks in place of injured shortstop Greg Gagne. He hasn’t done anything fancy. There have been no big hits. There are a few players in the Dodger clubhouse who don’t even know he speaks English.
But there he was Saturday afternoon, minding his own business, and realizing that it was only the first inning and Dodger starter Hideo Nomo was in trouble.
Marquis Grissom led off with a single. Mark Lemke walked on five pitches. Now up was Chipper Jones, who was behind 0 and 2 in the count, battled back to a full count, then fouled off three consecutive pitches.
Cox kept sending the runners with each pitch to avoid the double play, and when Jones blooped Nomo’s fastball into shallow left field, it appeared to work to perfection. Cox figured the Braves would have one run and two runners aboard with Fred McGriff at the plate.
Everyone in the ballpark, including Castro, left fielder Billy Ashley and second baseman Delino DeShields, thought the ball would drop. Castro lowered his head, anyway, and started running back. When he looked up again and saw the ball slicing to the left, he suddenly realized that he might have a play.
Castro kept going back and stuck out his glove for a basket catch.
Castro, remembering that Grissom was running on the play, spun around and fired to DeShields for the second out. DeShields hesitated, about to compliment Castro on his catch, and noticed that Lemke was scrambling to get back to first. He threw to first baseman Eric Karros to complete the triple play.
“I wasn’t expecting him [Lemke] to be that far from first,” DeShields said. “I heard everybody yelling, and I just threw the ball. I didn’t think he was going to make the catch, I really didn’t.”
Said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda: “That guy made a great catch. He made a sensational play.”
The triple play appeared to suck the life out of the Braves, and Nomo (8-5) took full advantage. He yielded five hits and one run in 6 1/3 innings before leaving because of a strained right calf. Nomo said his calf began bothering him at the start of the seventh inning, and was forced to leave when he ran to cover first base on Ryan Klesko’s groundout. The Dodgers said they will wait until today or Monday to determine whether Nomo can make his next start.
The Dodgers, who remain one game behind the National League West-leading San Diego Padres, provided Nomo all of the support he needed when they scored five runs in the third inning off Brave starter Steve Avery. DeShields hit a two-run, bases-loaded single in the inning and Karros followed with a two-run, bases-loaded double, breaking the game open, and turning the spotlight to Castro.
“Well, thanks to him, now I got my place in history,” Jones said.
Said Castro, who has earned the respect of his teammates with his play during Gagne’s absence: “I’m just so happy right now. I feel I’m doing a good job and can help this team. Hopefully, I can stay up here the whole year.”
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