With New York trailing the Athletics, 4-2, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Sabathia tossed a changeup low and inside to Kurt Suzuki, who smacked a hard ground ball to third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod ranged to his right and scampered to the base to force out Daric Barton, then threw to second baseman Robinson Cano, who nailed Ryan Sweeney. Cano then whipped the ball to first baseman Nick Johnson, completing the 5-4-3 triple killing.
"I was just straight lucky," Sabathia said. "I was throwing a changeup down and away, he rolled over it, and Al made a great play. I knew as soon as Al caught it, because Kurt was running. I knew he was going to get it."
While the Yankees do practice the play in Spring Training, knowing that it is a possibility when there are runners at first and second with a right-handed hitter up, Rodriguez said that his thinking was elsewhere at the time.
"I was thinking bunt, to be honest with you," Rodriguez said. "Teams try to scratch for anything they can get against CC, so I was up even with the bag. When the ball was hit, I just threw it to Robbie and let him do his thing.
"The ball was hit to my right, I took a couple of steps, stepped on the bag and just threw a little Hail Mary to Robbie. Then Robbie did a great job of turning it."
Triple plays in
|9/4/1965||Boston Red Sox||2||5-4-3-5|
|5/16/1957||Kansas City Athletics||2||1-6-4|
|7/17/1953||St. Louis Browns||2||8-6-3|
|6/1/1918||Chicago White Sox||8||5-4-3|
|8/28/1917||Chicago White Sox||3||5-5-4|
|8/26/1916||St. Louis Browns||3||6-2-3-2|
|5/6/1911||Boston Red Sox||9||6-4-3|
Cano said that once Rodriguez got the tag of third base and the throw to second base out of the way, the rest of the play felt routine.
"He just got rid of it right away," Cano said. "It feels like a double play, but you walk off the field and see the fans giving you the standing ovation. You say, 'I did something good.'"
Johnson, making his first start of the season in the field, said that he had never been part of a triple play before. He recognized the possibility instantly, however.
"They got rid of it pretty quick -- Alex got rid of it, Robbie got rid of it," Johnson said. "It was pretty cool to be a part of. A lot of things have to go right, but as soon as Alex touched third and threw to second, it was a good exchange and I knew it could happen."
From the bench, both Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira and manager Joe Girardi were also applauding.
"That was impressive," Teixeira said. "It was a great play just for Alex to get the ball, first of all, and then you realize that he was that close to third. With how good Robbie can turn it, it was possible."
"I didn't think that was a triple play at all," Girardi said. "You don't see it very often like that, where a guy has to take a step to his right and run to the bag. Suzuki runs pretty good, but a great play by Alex."
It was the Yankees' first triple play since June 3, 1968, against the Twins, when Johnny Roseboro hit into a 1-5-3 triple play in front of 7,238 at Yankee Stadium: pitcher Dooley Womack to third baseman Bobby Cox to first baseman Mickey Mantle.
"It was a bases-loaded, line drive to Womack, the pitcher," Braves manager Cox recalled Thursday. "He fired to me at third and we got the guy at first somehow. Everybody always talks about that because it was 42 years ago. I guess it was just a matter of time before somebody did it again.
"It was pretty special to be part of a triple play. It doesn't happen very often. But that's obvious. It took 42 more years to do it again."
In fact, the Yankees had gone 6,632 consecutive regular-season games since that 4-3 loss to Minnesota without turning a triple play.
Rodriguez was greeted at the back of the mound by Sabathia on his way off the field and was hit with high-fives all around as he returned to the dugout. He was presented with the ball after the game and said that he planned to keep it.
It was the A's first time grounding into a triple play since May 14, 1994, at Kansas City, when Geronimo Berroa was batting. The play was the first triple play at the Coliseum since Aug. 8, 1990, when Willie Randolph hit into one against the Orioles.
"It felt great," joked Suzuki, who also hit a three-run homer off Sabathia in the first inning. "The homer's going to be off the TV in a day and the triple play is going to be on forever. I guess I figured out a way to stay on TV.
"The whole time I was running down the line I was thinking, 'Don't throw it to second. Uh-oh.'"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Mark Bowman and Jane Lee contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.