A Brief History of the Rays’ Steals of Home

Hi, my name is Chris and I’m a baseball-oholic. I love major league baseball. I love minor league baseball. I love baseball RPGs. I love fantasy baseball. I love watching baseball. I love playing baseball. I love talking about baseball. I just love baseball.

I love the batter/pitcher chess match. I love the strong throws a shortstop or third baseman can make on a slow grounder. I love a nasty curveball that drops right under the batter’s bat as he swings. I love a home run that is blasted so deep, everyone knows it’s gone instantly. I love the flashy turns a second baseman can make on a double play. I love the wall-scaling, home-run robbing catch over the fence. But most of all, I love the straight steal of home.

It is my firm opinion that the straight steal of home is the greatest single play in all of sports. It’s my legs versus your arm. Go ahead and throw that 90 MPH fastball from 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate. I’m going to run 90 feet and still get there faster. To attempt it takes guts and stupidity. It takes perfect timing and luck.

To the best of my knowledge, there have been four straight steals of home in Tampa Bay history, since this is a Rays’ site, let’s revisit them.

Aubrey Huff – 9/6/2003

Inning: Bottom 7

Pitcher: Ricardo Rincon

Score before play: Rays 6, Athletics 4

The first straight steal of home in a Tampa Bay game was by none other than the speed demon himself, Aubrey Huff. That’s right, Aubrey Huff stole home on September 6, 2003. That season he stole a total of two bases and was caught thrice. (Aubrey Huff‘s career stolen base success rate is 59 percent. If you’re not aware, that’s a really poor success rate.)

There is not too much information on this event. According to this story, “…Huff was only breaking toward the plate when Ricardo Rincon‘s pitch skipped past the catcher.” So it appears that Huff basically lucked into this. Had Huff not been breaking towards the plate, this would have been scored as a wild pitch and not a steal of home.

Carl Crawford – 7/5/2006

Inning: Bottom 4

Pitcher: Jason Johnson

Score before play: Rays 4, Red Sox 1

This was the first real straight steal of home in Rays’ history and it almost didn’t happen. Crawford led off the bottom of the fourth with a base hit. After a foul popout by Rocco Baldelli, Crawford stole second base. The throw by Jason Varitek bounced to second base and Crawford slid in just under the throw. Huff then grounded out to first, moving Crawford over to third.

Crawford said “[I knew that] if i got a big enough lead, I could sneak in there. I timed it one time, and the second time I just took off.” Crawford also said, “[He] noticed during Tuesday’s game the tendency for Boston’s pitchers to go into a full wind-up with runners on and mentioned to manager Joe Maddon he’d like to try taking home.”

On an 0-1 pitch to Aubrey Huff, Crawford took off the instant Johnson made his first move. Johnson had ignored Crawford and may not have realized a steal attempt was in progress until the runner entered his peripheral vision. Crawford slid in easily under Varitek’s tag.

Pitch speed: 86 mph

Time to home plate: 2.5 seconds

B.J. Upton – 9/17/2007

Inning: Top 3

Pitcher: Kelvim Escobar

Score before play: Rays 3, Angels 3

B.J. Upton reached base in the third inning with a walk. On a wild pitch to Delmon Young, Upton and Carlos Pena each advanced a base. Young’s at-bat ended with a groundout to shortstop, allowing Pena to score and Upton to move to third. Escobar gave Upton a cursory look before the 2-1 pitch to Brendan Harris, but figured Upton would stay put. He didn’t, and was three-quarters of the way down the line before Escobar released the pitch. Jeff Mathis attempted to make a rolling, upside down tag, but whiffed.

Later, Upton would explain: “Kelvim Escobar was in a windup — slow guy in a windup — and once he got going, I took off.”

Pitch speed: 95 mph

Time to home plate: 2.9 seconds

B.J. Upton – 7/8/2009

Inning: Bottom 1

Pitcher: Brian Tallet

Score before play: Rays 0, Blue Jays 1

B.J. Upton became the first Tampa Bay Ray to complete a straight steal of home multiple times. B.J. reached on a lead-off walk and got to second on a single by Carl Crawford. Evan Longoria hit a fly ball to right and Carlos Pena lined out to right field, with Upton moving up to third. With Upton on third and Crawford on first, pitcher Brian Tallet continued to throw over to keep Crawford close. He forgot, however, to keep tabs on Upton. With the count 3-1 on Ben Zobrist, Tallet threw over to first. B.J. Upton took advantage of this and stole home while the ball was on its way to the first baseman.

The Blue Jays had talked about this specific situation. According to the MLB.com recap, Cito Gaston said a “no throw to first base” policy was in place in that situation. After the game, Tallet said, “That’s a mental error by me…”

Time to home plate: 2.2 seconds

Others

There have been a few other recorded steals of home in Rays’ history, all part of a double steal.

Alex Rodriguez – 5/30/1998 - Rodriguez stole home as part of a double steal, with Ken Griffey Jr. stealing second. Griffey moved up to third on the play by a throwing error on the shortstop.

Randy Winn – 6/30/1998 Winn stole home as part of a double steal, with Miguel Cairo stealing second.

Greg Vaughn  – 8/21/2000 Vaughn stole home as part of a double steal, with Fred McGriff stealing second.

Austin Kearns – 6/12/2003 Kearns stole home as part of a double steal, with Aaron Boone stealing second.

Geoff Blum – 5/2/2004 Blum stole home as part of a double steal, with Jose Cruz stealing second. Cruz advanced to third base on a throwing error by the first baseman.

Eric Hinske – 6/29/2004 Hinske stole home as part of a double steal, with Chris Gomez stealing second.

B.J. Upton – 4/8/2008 Upton stole home as part of a double steal, with Jonny Gomes stealing second.

Alex Gordon – 8/2/2009 Gordon stole home when Mitch Maier broke towards second base early and got caught in a rundown. Jason Bartlett threw the ball away and allowed Gordon to score.

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