Back in 1978, Thomas Boswell checked up on Cuba’s baseball culture in an article that I believe eventually wound up in his book, How Life Imitates the World Series. Here, from the story he wrote about the visit, is the tale of how
the greatest batter in Cuban history, Wilfredo Sanchez . . . once came within inches of starting the only quadruple play in history (four outs) with a great outfield catch.
“Yes, we almost got four legal outs on one play,” Sanchez says, laughing. “But as it turned out, I became the only man to start a triple play which drove home the opposing team’s winning run.”
That near-quadruple play , certainly the most spectacular unknown play ever, captures the central threads of current Cuban baseball – recklessness, speed, superb defense and fascination with rules and strategy.
The four-out play, explained, become stunningly simple to baseball aficionados and stays forever unintelligible to the rest of humanity. Any Cuban school child, for instance, could explain it.
With the bases loaded, none out, tie game, Sanchez made a remarkable catch in right-center field. The runners on first and second bases ran on the line drive up the gap, and were trapped far off their bases as Sanchez pegged to second and the relay was fired to first.
Triple play: one fly ball caught, two runners doubled up.
Meanwhile, however, the alert runner on third base had tagged up and crossed home plate before the final (third) out at first base. Since the final out was not a force play, the run counted.
Here, the play takes on what might be called The Cuban Dimension. The manager of Sanchez’ team appealed the runner’s tagging up at third, claiming that he had left the base a split second before the catch.
Few managers would know that such an appeal play could result in a legitimate fourth out, thus nullifying a vital run. Except, that is, in Cuba where even the hounds lying in the road would know.
In the confusion, one umpire signaled that fourth out, while the others upheld the run. Finally, the run was upheld, and it cost Sanchez’ team (Matanzas) the game, 3-2.
24 years later, in a Washington Post article in 2002, Boswell described either the same play with a different ending or an entirely different play that just happened to take place in Cuba as well:
Once, in Cuba, a quadruple play decided the island championship. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, home team one run behind. Liner to right in the gap. On instinct, the runners go. Diving catch. Throws back to second, then first for a triple play. But the runner on third has tagged in the meantime to score and tie the game. Defensive team appeals that the runner at third left too soon. Appeal upheld. “Fourth” out. Run denied. Game over.