Michael Bourn watched Jacoby Ellsbury make the mad dash. He saw Jayson Werth take off, too. So when the Houston speedster got his chance, there was only one thing to do. Go!
All of a sudden, stealing home has become all the rage.
“This is the first time I ever did it that I can remember,” Bourn said after Thursday’s 5-3 win at Colorado.
Bourn was greeted by high-fives from his teammates when he slid in safely on the back half of a double steal.
Werth drew a curtain call at Philadelphia for his swipe Tuesday night against the Dodgers. He was sneaky, bolting home when All-Star catcher Russell Martin lobbed the ball back to the pitcher.
Ellsbury simply was too fast, beating Andy Pettitte’s pitch to the plate last month at Fenway.
“They stole it in a different sense than I did. Everybody stole it different,” Bourn said. “However way you steal it is how you steal it.”
There had not been a single straight steal of home by mid-May last year, the Elias Sports Bureau said.
Tracking straight steals and the success rate isn’t an exact science. Players caught in rundowns or trying to advance on balls that skitter away can show up in the stats. In any case, the single-season high this decade for “straight” steals of home – not part of double steals – is five, in 2003 and 2001.
Then again, what player has the speed, timing, daring, courage and craziness – what if the hitter doesn’t see you and swings – to try it?
For Ellsbury, the elements were just right: a lefty pitcher working from the full windup, a third baseman playing off the bag with a lefty hitter at the plate, and plenty of time to take a walking lead.
Overall, 11 players stole home last season, of which four were not part of a multisteal play. Ellsbury started this year’s run on national television against the Yankees, and his Boston buddies laughed after his caper.
Funny thing, stealing home used to be pretty popular.
Jackie Robinson did it 19 times, including that oft-seen swipe in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. To this day, at the mere mention of the play, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra swears he tagged him out.
Don Zimmer, in his 61st year in baseball, hit the fly ball that moved Robinson to third base, setting up the famous steal. Now an executive with the Tampa Bay Rays, Zimmer doesn’t think stealing home will become a fad.
“Not unless pitchers start winding up. There’s not enough of them that do it. And that’s why you don’t see it that often. I don’t think you’ll see a trend of that,” he said Friday.
Babe Ruth made it nearly a dozen times and Ty Cobb set the record with 54. Hit machine Rod Carew perfected the art, accomplishing the feat 17 times in his career.
Carew stole home seven times alone in 1969, one behind Cobb’s single-season mark. That year, eight players had stolen home by mid-May, according to Elias.
Carew marveled at Ellsbury’s dash home with two outs, the bases loaded and J.D. Drew at the plate.
“It stirred up a lot of memories for me,” Carew posted on his Web site after the play. “It was fun, but dangerous as Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was often the batter with me on third. The Twins’ PR guys had fun with that, writing a poem, ‘Here lies Rod Carew, lined to left by Killebrew.’ ”
Rickey Henderson, baseball’s career steals leader with 1,406, did it just four times. Lou Brock, who held the record with 938 before Henderson, never made it.
New York Mets star Jose Reyes is a three-time stolen base champ, and his bluffs of third base have prompted pitchers to balk him home. He’s never tried to steal the plate, but vows his time will come.
Then there was Vic Power. As a first baseman for Cleveland and the Kansas City A’s in 1958, he stole three bases all season. But he swiped home twice in a game, the only player in the past 85 years to do that.
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