The year was 2009 and the American League East was a tight threeway slugfest between three heavy weights: the Boston Red Sox who had taken it all just two years before, the New York Yankees were restocked and reloaded following a failed campaign the prior year, and the new kids on the block, the Tampa Bay Ray had just come off their first World Series in franchise history.
Among many headlines of that year was the race for the stolen base crown in the American league. The two speedsters leading the pack were Boston heartthrob Jacoby Ellsbury and the fastest leftfielder in baseball, Carl Crawford. The two were the stuff of nightmares for opposing teams. Singles became doubles. Doubles became triples. Catcher’s looked like they risked dislocating their shoulder’s trying to throw them out. Pitchers made wild throws in futile attempts to keep them on the bag.
It was a year of feats for the two outfielders. On May 9th, Carl Crawford tied the record for stolen bases in a single game with six against a very frustrated Brad Penny. I had the fortune, or misfortune I suppose, of being at the game. The sense of despair emenating from Sox fans and the team was almost palpable whenever Crawford got on base. By the sixth steal, the Boston fans present were stopped, even groaning. Varitek may as well have been rolling the ball after Crawford. With long, graceful strides and a running motion as fluid as water, Crawford was nothing short of unstoppable on the basepaths. Tropicana Field thundered with his every step as he shot from first to second, then second to third. His 60 steals that season were second only to Jacoby Ellsbury.
In just his second full year, Ellsbury had a massive 70 steals to lead the American League. But none were more memorable than on April 29th when he executed one of the rarest and most exciting feats in all of baseball, a pure steal of home.
The pitcher was Andy Pettite and the catcher Jorge Posada, a tandem that has a long history of terrorizing Red Sox batters.
Ellsbury was on third and Drew was at the plate.
The defensive alignment the Yankees employed against the pull hitting Drew was such that the third baseman slid over to the shortstop position so nobody was holding Ellsbury on third.
When Pettite went into his windup…
Ellsbury shot off…
Younger, less experienced, Ellsbury lacks the grace of Crawford, his sprint home was a stumbling bumbling affair in which he actually tripped a few feet short of home. Yet, what he lacks in style he makes up for in raw speed. When the umpire called safe at homeplate, the entire team exploded in celebration as Pettite yelled angrily for the ball.
When it was announced that the Red Sox had signed Crawford, the nation was still reeling from the Adrian Gonzalez trade. It was an almost euphoric time in which we could not believe what we were hearing. Certainly the Sox couldn’t have signed both Crawford AND Gonzalez. That’s not how it goes in Boston, we always get jilted. The papers must have mixed it up, Crawford must have signed with New York.
This season the two greatest speed threats in the league have been joined on one team. Speed, never before a great weapon of the Red Sox, has just become one of the top in their arsenal. Should they be back to back in the order, double steals will become an almost daily occurance. Nobody will be able to touch these two. Crawford’s knowlege of stealing and Ellsbury’s pure speed will make for a few good headlines, to be sure. This lineup promises to be a pitcher’s worst nightmare.