(Pat Sullivan/AP Photo)
HOUSTON — Craig Biggio has reached baseball immortality.
The second baseman logged hits Nos. 2,998, 2,999 and 3,000 on Thursday, with the third hit arriving in the seventh inning, in the form of a base hit to right off Rockies starting pitcher Aaron Cook.
The hit drove in a run to tie the game at 1, and although Biggio was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double, the unfortunate end of the inning didn’t dim the celebration.
As soon as Biggio was called out, Brad Ausmus ran to Biggio, with the rest of the team in tow. Biggio was mobbed by his teammates and was soon joined by his wife, Patty, and daughter Quinn, who ran out to the field to embrace the Astros icon.
Biggio’s sons, Conor and Cavan, also joined their dad on the field. During an eight-minute delay of the game, 42,537 fans showered Biggio with cheers and Biggio tearfully tipped his helmet to the crowd and embraced his family again.
The best moment arrived minutes later when Biggio spotted Jeff Bagwell in the dugout and coaxed his longtime teammate and friend onto the field. Biggio pulled a visibly reluctant Bagwell onto the right side of the infield grass, right near where the two played side by side for 15 years from 1991-2005.
Biggio’s 3,000th hit was a no-doubter. No. 2,999? Not so much.
In the fifth frame, Biggio laced a sharp grounder toward third base, where Garrett Atkins took two steps to his right and reached across his body to field the ball. After a brief pause, Atkins threw the ball high over first baseman Todd Helton’s outstretched glove, and as the ball hit the wall next to the Astros’ dugout and Biggio advanced to second, the sellout crowd waited for the official scorer’s ruling.
Base hit, runner advances to third on an E-5. Hit No. 2,999 was officially in the books.
Official scorer Trey Wilkinson cited rule 10.12 (a)(1) as his reasoning for the call. The rule states: “Slow handling of the ball that does not involve mechanical misplay shall not be construed as an error.”
In other words, the official scorer can’t charge an error if the fielder fields a ground ball cleanly but does not throw to first base in time to retire the batter.
“[Atkins] held onto the ball for what I would consider an abnormally long time,” Wilkinson said. “By the time the ball was thrown, to the naked eye — plus looking at multiple replays — you can’t tell if a good throw would have made it, if he would have been thrown out or not.”
Atkins’ throw was “terrible, no doubt about it,” Wilkinson conceded, but Biggio likely would have beaten it out had it been more accurate.
“It was going to be a bang-bang play, no question about that,” Wilkinson said. “Somebody’s got to make the call. That’s why there’s an official scorer. In my opinion, it’s a hit.”
Biggio logged his first hit in the third, a single to center off Cook.
His 3,000th hit arrived one day before the 19th anniversary of Biggio’s first big-league hit — June 29, 1988, a single off Orel Hershiser that began a sure Hall of Fame career during which he’s played in seven All-Star Games, six postseasons and one World Series.
Biggio didn’t need 3,000 hits to solidify his legacy as one of the greatest Astros players. He, Bagwell and Nolan Ryan have had that status locked up for years. But reaching a milestone of this stature in front of his hometown fans was the perfect ending to a two-decades-long love affair between the kid from New Jersey and a city he’s called home for most of his adult life.
Great night in baseball.