Benefield: Healdsburg's Connor Browning turns a rare unassisted triple play
The moment could have been a tipping point. Down 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Elsie Allen baseball team was rallying. The Lobos had loaded the bases with their first three batters of the inning.
When junior Luis Luna ripped a line drive up the middle, all three base runners thought the ball had found a gap, so they took off.
But sophomore Healdsburg second baseman Connor Browning backhanded the line drive. Out one. He moved to his right to tag second. Out two. Then he turned to his left to see the runner from first base heading his way. He took a couple of steps toward him and tagged him with his glove. Out three.
An unassisted triple play. A play rarer than a perfect game. A play so rare, only 15 have been recorded in the history of Major League Baseball.
When Browning trotted to the dugout in that April 13 game after snuffing out a potential Lobos rally all by his lonesome, Healdsburg coach Justin Herrguth had some explaining to do.
“He was kind of smiling,” Herrguth said of Browning. “I’m like, ‘Dude. That was unassisted. Do you understand the rarity of that?’ These kids don’t know. It was kind of cute.”
Herrguth has been a baseball guy all his life, so he knew what he just witnessed.
“I’m 40 years old and that was the second time I’ve seen one,” he said.
So, too, according to Herrguth, did the Greyhounds’ bat boy and serious baseball enthusiast, fifth-grader Noah Proctor.
“He was probably more excited than anyone,” Herrguth said, recalling that Noah shouted, ‘Coach! That was an unassisted triple play!’
“We are talking about a 10-year-old fifth-grader. It was one of those things that took a moment to set in. What just happened?”
And it’s a moment that will likely stay with Browning forever.
Eric Bruntlett of Santa Rosa can relate. He’s the last guy to record an unassisted triple play in Major League Baseball.
Bruntlett was playing second base for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 when he ended the game against the New York Mets in much the same way Browning did: snagged a line drive, tagged the bag, tagged the runner.
Bruntlett, who appeared in three College World Series while playing at Stanford and won the World Series with the Phillies in 2008, said that moment on Aug. 23, 2009, is what people remember most about his career.
“That’s what people remember for sure,” he said. “It’s such a rare thing.”
But that rare thing — Bruntlett even called it “dumb luck” in his case — earned him a spot in Cooperstown.
“I got a call saying, ‘Congratulations, it’s an amazing feat. Do you have anything you could donate?’” he said. “I wasn’t going to give up my glove, it was the middle of the season. It was my baby.”
So Bruntlett sent his No. 4 Phillies road jersey. It’s there next to a video loop of his getting all three outs of the inning in about four seconds.
“You don’t really have time to think about it,” he said of the play.