Sunday, June 03, 2007


Stealing Home

The Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees were locked in a yawner. Very little was happening in a low scoring affair. After all, when you play so many games during a season, you will have the odd forgettable game.

Blue Jays’ second baseman Aaron Hill had managed to find himself on third base late in the game. Southpaw Andy Pettite was on the mound for the Yankees, eying the base runner Jason Phillips on first base. He went through his pre-pitch motions, got the sign, and paused in the stretch to hold the first base runner in check.

Jorge Posada positioned himself behind home plate, awaiting Pettite’s pitch. The Blue Jay batter, Royce Clayton, was set in the box.

Very routine. And then, it was almost as if lightning struck. (Not much chance of that literally happening with the CN Tower next door!)

Hill stole home. With a little encouragement from his third base coach, he edged along the base path, and bolted home. Andy Pettite was the only person at the Rogers Centre who didn’t see him take off. As a lefty, he was naturally positioned facing first base before his delivery. Posada was nicely screened by the batter. His vision is also slightly impaired by his mask.

When he saw that Hill was storming home, he jumped from his squatted position and screamed for the ball. Alex Rodriguez, the Yankee third baseman, also bellowed at Pettite. Pettite hesitated for a moment with all the comotion, then fired home. Too high, too late. Hill safely slid under the tag. A run for the Jays, badly needed.

The only other Blue Jay ever to steal home was Raul Mondesi, half a dozen years ago. (In my book, double steals don’t count).That makes the feat more remarkable than hitting for “The Cycle”. The Jays have only had one “No hitter”, from Dave Steib, another rarity.

In 1969, Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins stole home SEVEN TIMES. Memory serving me correctly, he accomplished the same seventeen times in his career. He was much more sly about it than was Hill. He would stroll down the base path, scamper back when the pitcher threw to third, to hold him close to the bag. He would then edge off again, a little further.

How unnerving for the pitcher! Knowing that at any moment, despite his best efforts, Carew would score stealing home.

Rod Carew was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1991, along with Gaylord Perry, and the greatest Canadian pitcher ever, Ferguson Jenkins.

With a little key tapping from the Blue Jays’ site, I was able to hear Carew’s acceptance speech at the Hall. Quite remarkable.

He was born in Panama, on a train. Dirt poor, it was a struggle for him and his family from the getgo. But he thanked his mother, profusely, for, among other things, “always having a baseball glove” for him to use. He used to listen to Major League baseball games on the Armed Forces Network, and dreamed about becoming a Big League ball player.

When he was fifteen years old, he was under the microscope in New York City----all of the scouts, and agents, and knowledgeable baseball people had their eyes on him. He finally settled into Minnesota, as a Twin. His jersey now hangs in the rafters, # 29, retired.

He thanked one of his managers, Gene Mauch, also a former Montreal Expo. (Sadly, we hardly ever see those words in print, or hear them.) He thanked Billy Martin, the feisty first manager he had for “turning a kid into a man”.

Carew had a lifetime .328 batting average. He batted left, and would slap the ball to all fields to get on base. He led the league in hitting six times, and in 1977, he batted .388. In baseball jargon, “he could flat out hit!”. He was even part of one of the Twinkies triple plays in 1968.

In his notes, Gregory Chisholm indicates that Manager John Gibbons had the steal in the back of his mind. “Before the game, Butterfield came up to me. Butter knows these guys real well.” He said: “There might be an opportunity where we get a chance to steal home.” Gibbons gave him the green light. “Hilly executed it perfectly. You don’t see that too often. It was an exciting play.”

Following the game in Toronto, Pettite said that he was embarrassed by Hill’s action. “I know someone stole home off of me a long time ago in the windup. But to be out of the stretch, what can you say? It’s embarrassing. The guy’s able to get home and cost you a ball game.”

Perhaps if he were aware of Carew’s feats, Pettite would feel less shame.

The game was won on Alex Rios’s sacrifice fly to centre field, deep enough to easily score the runner on third. Not much respect for Johnny Damon’s arm, understandably.

A hard fought victory. They all count, in the great game of baseball.

James Hurst May 31, 2007

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