Two weeks after Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s straight steal of home against Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth pulled off an unbelievable delayed steal against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Seeing the exuberance in the crowd, the high-fives, the big smiles, the curtain calls, got me thinking—is the theft of home plate the most exciting play in baseball?
It’s become an incredibly rare feat in the modern game. Werth pulled off the delayed steal in the same inning in which he beat a throw to take second, and took third uncontested. Werth said he decided to take home after noticing Dodgers' catcher Russell Martin wasn’t looking him back to third. He became the first Philly to steal home since Carlos Ruiz did it against the Reds in 2007.
Ellsbury is the first Red Sox player to steal home since Jose Offerman pulled it off in 1999, as part of a double steal, and the first Red Sox to pull off a straight steal of home since Billy Hatcher’s theft in 1994.
But is it more exciting than the euphoria of a walk-off home run? What of the always popular inside-the-park home run?
The walk-off homer and the stealing of home are similar in that there’s that brief period of suspense as the ball sails toward the fences, or the speedster breaks for home, followed by the high-fives of strangers and the spilling of $10 beer.
The inside-the-park home run is more of a drawn out excitement that builds as unexpected circumstances allow the play to take shape, be it a strange carom off the bottom of the fence or a collision in the outfield.
All are exciting, memorable plays that fans carry with them forever. Yet walk-off home runs seem to happen all the time, and most of us have been able to revel in the moment of an inside-the-park job. But most of us have probably not been in a stadium and witnessed what even the legendary Ricky Henderson did only four times in his career.
Think about that. Out of his record 1,406 stolen bases, Henderson stole home only four times, twice both in 1980 and 1982.
Its rarity is certainly a measure of risk versus reward, with the power in the lineups managers just aren’t going to risk an out when the next pitch could be a home run or double off the wall, or heck even a deep sacrifice fly.
Yes, stealing home plate is the most exciting play in baseball; it’s quick, aggressive, and unpredictable. So if you have the good fortune to see someone on your team steal home, go ahead and whoop it up, hug a stranger, cheer your brains out. You’ll probably not see one again outside of SportsCenter.