New York Yankees’ centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, perfected one of baseball’s many arts with a straight up steal of home plate against the Tampa Bay Rays.
By Christian Kouroupakis
New York Yankees‘ Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home is the latest demonstration of the most exhilarating plays in the game of baseball, and maybe even all of sports. Along with being the fastest and most surprising of plays in the game, it’s also the rarest.
The last New York Yankee to perform a straight steal of home plate was when Derek Jeter performed the maneuver on May 5th, 2001 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this play is one of the only ones in sports that could cause the toughest of ballplayers to be transfigured into a spooked runner standing on pins and needles.
When attempting a straight up steal of home, one must think long and hard about whether or not you want to put yourself in harms way of a fastball from a short distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.
I’m not sure if Ellsbury communicated with Brett Gardner, who was at the dish when his teammate stole the run, but a ton could have gone wrong.
First off, it was a 3-2 count. Gardner needs to protect the plate at all costs with two strikes and if Matt Moore had thrown a strike, Ellsbury could be enduring a stint on the disabled list instead of owning the signature play of the young season.
“I’m still stunned about what happened. I’ve never seen that.” Yankees’ catcher Brian McCann said in his postgame interview with the YES Network. “With two strikes? Are you kidding me? The greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, if Gardner swings, he loses a head.”
To further justify the anxiety, all of the odds are against you. Baseball coaches everywhere instruct that you should only attempt to steal home during the late innings of a close, low-scoring ball game with two men out and a weak hitter at the plate.
Additionally, home plate is the one base you steal entirely on the pitcher because the catcher makes no throw on this play. The best victims are pitchers with curiously slow deliveries or long wind-ups, but the risk-reward factor is surely in favor of the pitcher.
Basically, the planets must align in order to perfect it and be safe.
A successful attempt is a rush beyond any other, and like Ellsbury’s steal did, it could provide a huge momentum swing, but getting caught can bring doom and gloom to a rally along with annoyance from a manager.
Joe Girardi would have been more than justified to flip out and even bench Ellsbury yet again if he were out.
Entering play yesterday, New York was averaging a mere 2.25 runs per game in their last eight and is 1-7 in that span so the value of the speedster’s run is beyond any other.
“That was the risk I was willing to take,” Ellsbury told Wallace Mathews of ESPN.
Runs are becoming a hot commodity for a struggling offense like the Yankees. Although it’s doubtful that the woes will continue, using a tactic that was more common in the earlier portion of baseball’s existence might have been the spark the Yankees need.
Following the stolen base, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira started the sixth inning with back-to-back singles. One out later, McCann cranked a go-ahead single the other way to drive in Beltran and give the Yanks a 4-3 lead.
All it took was every ounce of courage in the former AL MVP’s body to help the Yankees dig out of this early-season hole that finds the team batting .202 with runners in scoring position.
“It was definitely a risky play on their part,” Rays pitcher Matt Moore told Larry Fleisher. “If I would have executed a little better, we would have had an out right there.”
If Ellsbury would have been thrown out, it would have been yet another dagger to the heart of the Yankees and would have more than likely lead to a 3-2 defeat.
Ellsbury’s last steal of home took place against his current team when he was a member of the Boston Red Sox. In a game at Fenway Park in 2009, he stole home off Andy Pettite.
Following that steal, Ellsbury claimed the greatest component of mastering the straight up steal of home was having the courage to do so.
To have the audacity to perform a stunt that runners don’t even bother to think about anymore makes it even more impressive.
With everything against him in that situation ranging from health risk to the fate of the contest at play, Ellsbury put it all on the line to give his team the boost it needed the most.
Does the Yankees’ offense return to the form it was at when it scored 27 runs in the first three games? Maybe. But it would be a fire ignited by the fearless act of Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home plate.