NEW YORK -- The Yankees needed this spark badly, and larceny was in Jacoby Ellsbury's mind as he retouched third base, keeping his eyes trained upon left-hander Matt Moore while silently calculating the 90 feet separating him from home plate.With the infield playing back and the count full, Ellsbury saw
NEW YORK -- The Yankees needed this spark badly, and larceny was in Jacoby Ellsbury's mind as he retouched third base, keeping his eyes trained upon left-hander Matt Moore while silently calculating the 90 feet separating him from home plate.
With the infield playing back and the count full, Ellsbury saw Moore go into his full windup and bolted. His hurtling dive past catcher Curt Casali invigorated the Yankees, propelling New York to Friday's 6-3 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
"You're trying to score a run, but guys get fired up," Ellsbury said. "It doesn't happen very often. As a player, you're like, 'Hey, did that just happen?' And then when you're running down the line, you're just hoping you've got a big enough lead and everything works out. It's exciting. It's the ultimate adrenaline rush for a basestealer."
There were several factors that played into Ellsbury's decision to run. The Yankees' bench had been trying to alert Ellsbury one pitch earlier, when Moore had opted to work from the windup with a 3-1 count on Brett Gardner, a left-handed hitter.
With third baseman Evan Longoria out of earshot, third-base coach Joe Espada crept behind Ellsbury and said that he nudged the runner to go. When Ellsbury hesitated on 3-1, Espada said he pushed him more forcefully on the full-count offering, noting Moore's deliberate movement.
"On the 3-1 pitch, I said, 'You know what, Jake? We could steal home here,'" Espada said. "Strike two, and then I'm like, 'We've got this here. Let's go.' And he went."
Ellsbury slid in under what was ruled ball four, so it was a walk for Gardner and a run for the Yankees. There was some danger; the pitch could have been low and hit Ellsbury, or Gardner could have swung, and Ellsbury slyly referenced a line from "Dumb & Dumber" to sum up the challenge.
"[Brian McCann] said, 'What if he would have hit you in the face?'" Ellsbury said. "I said, 'That was a risk I was willing to take.'"
Gardner said that he saw Ellsbury break and was able to watch the play develop. He recognized that Moore did not throw a strike but said that if he had, Gardner might have tried to take a short swing and hit a chopper somewhere.
"I obviously see him coming in and know he's going to slide low into the right-handed batter's box," Gardner said. "If I have to swing the bat nice and easy, I'll play pepper and try to put the ball in play. I can't take one right down the middle. I really don't have a lot of time to think about what you're going to do or not going to do. It worked out for the best."
Moore said that he was in the windup because of the comfort it provides, and he acknowledged that he was not expecting Ellsbury to run, especially with two strikes.
"It's just one of those things where I didn't think they were going to put their scoring opportunity at risk, with, especially, their center fielder," Moore said. "Tip the cap to him for being able to execute and take advantage of it."
The play was reminiscent of Ellsbury's steal of home plate as a member of the Red Sox at Fenway Park against the Yankees on April 26, 2009, when he took advantage of Andy Pettitte pitching from a full windup.
"It's not a play you see every day," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The last time I saw it, he did it against Andy Pettitte. That kept me up a few nights. It's good to be on this side."
The last Yankees player to record a straight steal of home was Derek Jeter against the Orioles on May 5, 2001. The last steal of home of any kind by a Yankee was achieved by Chris Young on Sept. 13, 2014, at Baltimore, as part of a double steal. Ellsbury smiled and said that he's now 2-for-2 lifetime, and he'd like to try to make it 3-for-3 someday.
"I'm always looking to go," Ellsbury said. "You give me the green [light] to take a stab at it, I'm going to go for it as long as I'm confident in going. Every single time I get on third base, I'm looking for something like that. Of all the times I've gotten on third, I went twice. But it's exciting, running down the line."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007.
Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.