Once she understood, Hannelore had every right to brag on her son, the Athletics' third baseman. His cycle was the 238th in major league history, making it a rarer feat than a no-hitter, of which there have been 239. In terms of prestige, though, as Blowers's mom can attest, the cycle pales by comparison.
When a pitcher has a no-hitter going, his teammates stay away from him on the bench for fear they will jinx him. If pulled off, the no-hitter becomes national news. On the other hand, when John Valentin was a double short of the cycle two years ago, his Red Sox teammates went out of their way to remind him that he was very proficient at smacking the ball off the Green Monster for a two-base hit, and joked that it might be a good time to do so. Valentin did just that, but the fanfare was minimal.
The knock on the cycle is that it is a fluke. How else to describe something mat depends on a player like Blowers—who understates the case more than a little when he says, "I don't run real good"—legging out a triple? "It's not something anyone sets out to do," he says. "You have to be lucky."
But why are such rare, impressive feats overlooked—and sometimes even shrugged off by the guys who accomplished them? Why would Valentin, upon turning baseball's ninth regular-season unassisted triple play, in 1994, toss the ball onto the mound as he ran off the field, retrieving it only when one of the umps suggested it might make a keepsake?
The rule of thumb seems to be that feats accomplished primarily because of luck tend to get slighted. Hence Valentin's nonchalance following his triple play, because if it wasn't for the fact that there were no outs and runners on first and second who happened to be running on the pitch, it was a routine line drive.
What were they thinking?
It was a move so audacious that no major league manager had dared to try it in more than a half century. Arizona led San Francisco 8-6 last Thursday night at 3Com Park, but the Giants had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Diamondbacks righthanded closer Gregg Olson had walked five of the nine batters he had faced—and Barry Bonds was on his way to the plate. Arizona manager Buck Showalter had two pitchers warming up, righthander Russ Springer, who had the flu, and lefthander Efrain Valdez, who had pitched in the two previous games. Showalter knew that Bonds was hitting .328 against righthanded pitching and had homered in three of his last four games. He saw journeyman catcher Brent Mayne, a lefthanded .290 hitter, on deck. Without consulting his coaches, Showalter held up four fingers to catcher Kelly Stinnett, an order to walk Bonds intentionally, thus forcing home a run and putting the winning run in scoring position. "I gave it a triple take," Stinnett said. "I thought, 'Wow,' but if you think about it, it's playing the percentages. The guy's going to score anyway if Bonds gets a single."
Olson wanted to pitch to Bonds, because he was angry about the way Bonds strolled to first after Olson had walked him in the eighth inning. "That pissed me off," Olson said. "I wanted to get him out to end the game, but saner heads prevailed."
Olson walked Bonds as ordered, shrinking the Diamondbacks' lead to 8-7. Then Olson added to the drama by running the count full to Mayne. After fouling off the first 3-2 pitch, Mayne lined the next pitch to rightfield, where it was caught by Brent Brede to end the game. "They got lucky," Mayne said after the game. "I've never seen anything like that, except maybe in Little League if a guy is hitting .900 or something."
Arizona's starting pitcher, Brian Anderson, watched the ninth inning on television in the clubhouse and said later that he could hardly believe the strategy that preserved his victory. "Our manager has elephantiasis of the nuts," Anderson said. "I've never seen anything like this. No other manager makes that move. They play by the book. Buck could give a frog's fat ass."