Tampa Bay's Upton steals home
Rays center fielder accomplishes feat for third time
ST. PETERSBURG -- Watching Carl Crawford hit a triple is one of baseball's most exciting plays, but how about watching B.J. Upton steal home?
Upton stood on third base with two outs in the first inning of the Rays' game against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. Ben Zobrist was at the plate facing a 3-1 count. That's when Upton caught Toronto starter Brian Tallet sleeping. The Jays left-hander threw over to first base, trying to keep Crawford from stealing second base. Once Tallet made his throw, Upton took off for home, easily beating Kevin Millar's throw to the plate.
"I think in that situation, 3-1 [count], they're obviously thinking C.C.'s going there," said Upton, explaining that he had played against Tallet in the Minor Leagues and knew he normally employed a slide step with runners on base. "The only time he really goes high is when he's going over. It just happened to be the right situation, 3-1, two outs. At worst, we've got Zobrist coming back to the plate. [Tallet] lifted, then kind of turned, and at that point, I knew he was going over to first and I was halfway down the line."
Tallet confessed he didn't see Upton.
"That's a mental error by me," Tallet said. "That just goes to show you. When I say I was horrible today, I was horrible in every single aspect."
Anticipating the Rays might try such a ploy, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said a "no throw to first base" policy was in place in that situation.
"Tallet kind of threw over there on his own," Gaston said. "That's my fault that we didn't go out there and tell him [not to throw to first]. That's one of those plays that I think they have a designed play over there to do that. That was kind of my fault."
According to Upton, pulling off such a play comes down to identifying the right situation.
"It's just a matter of staying in the game," Upton said. "That's exactly what [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] was talking about. Right there I was reading him. I was reading him the first couple of pitches. I don't think he went high at all except the one time he threw over to try and get Carl. Once I saw him do it again, I was out of there."
Upton's 31st stolen base of the season gave him his third career steal of home and the second time he accomplished the feat on a straight steal.
Upton first stole home against the Angels at Anaheim on Sept. 17, 2007, which came on a straight steal. His second steal of home came against the Mariners at Tropicana Field on April 8, 2008, on a double steal.
"Kelvim Escobar was in a windup -- slow guy in a windup -- and once he got going, I took off," said Upton recalling his first steal of home. "I don't remember the other one."
Three steals of home ties Upton with Torii Hunter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Omar Vizquel for the most among active players. Ty Cobb holds the all-time record for steals of home with 54.
Crawford (July 5, 2006, against Boston) and Aubrey Huff (Sept. 6, 2003, vs. Oakland) are the only other Rays to execute a straight steal of home in franchise history.
Geoff Blum (May 2, 2004, vs. Oakland), Greg Vaughn (Aug. 21, 2000, at the White Sox) and Randy Winn (June 30, 1998, vs. Atlanta) also recorded steals of home, but each involved a double steal.
"There's a lot of factors involved -- the amount of lead you can get, and if you have someone at first base who can obviously draw a throw in that situation," Maddon said. "It matters. But you have to be aware on the third-base side, and B.J.'s break was perfect."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.