Q: Whatever can be so rare as a baseball pitcher throwing a perfect game or a batter slugging four homeruns in a single game?

A: The first of these has been done 21 times since 1900, the second 16 times, says Dan Lewis in his book "Now I Know More." But rarer than either of these is Major League Baseball's unassisted triple play, where all three outs in an inning are recorded in one play by the same fielder. The tally? Only 15 such plays in the league's history.

For this rare play to be possible, there must be no outs in the inning and at least two runners on base. The unassisted triple play usually consists of a hard line drive hit directly at an infielder for the first out, with that same fielder then able to double off one of the base runners and tag a second for the second and third outs. Eight of the 15 fielders were shortstops, five were second basemen and two were first basemen.

The Cleveland Indians is the only franchise to have three players achieve this feat while on their roster: Neal Ball, playing for the Cleveland Naps, was the first in MLB under modern rules, on July 19, 1909; then Bill Wambsganns in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series; and Asdrubal Cabrera in 2008 (from Wikipedia).

Q: Do you have a "dog killer" in your pocket?

A: You do if you have a penny minted after 1982, says Julie Hecht in "Scientific American" special edition "The Science of Dogs & Cats." For the 20 years before 1982, pennies were predominantly composed of about 95 percent copper, whereas since that year, pennies have been 97.5 percent zinc. Though an essential material, too much zinc can be a bad thing: "When pennies meet the acid in a dog's stomach, the zinc gets released rapidly, which can destroy red blood cells and, in turn, lead to a number of debilitating conditions, including kidney or liver damage."


Q: Drinking for humans is easy using gravity to pull the fluid down our throat to our stomach. It's trickier for quadrupeds that have to lower their heads to the ground and somehow transport the fluid up. In the case of dogs and cats, the tongue is key, dogs scooping and cats splashing fluids up. Elephants of course just suck with their trunks, like a drinking straw. But how do giraffes, with their extraordinarily long necks, meet the challenge?

A: To drink, giraffes spread their front legs apart and lower their necks far enough to submerge their lips. But with necks about 8 feet long, they have to raise the water about 6.5 feet to get it to where gravity can do the rest. Based on field observations, zoo videos and mathematical models, physicists Philippe Binder and Dale Tayler (writing in "Physics Teacher") conclude that giraffes create a mechanical "plunger" pump.

Here's how: Starting with jaws closed, they open their submerged lips (the "intake valve") and close their epiglottis at the opening of the throat. Then they open their jaws to suck water into their mouth, close their lips, open their epiglottis (the "discharge valve"), and close their jaws, forcing water up into their throat (esophagus). This process is repeated until the esophagus is full. The final phase involves the giraffe lifting its head up to its normal position, above the body, so that the water flows down to the stomach, "almost certainly gravity-assisted."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at sbtcolumn@gmail.com