Sox took unprecedented liberties with Rivera

CHICAGO -- Maybe this was widely reported at the time and my memory is doing a slow fade. But did you know that no one before Dave Roberts had ever stolen a base successfully against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the postseason?

I was inspired to look by the four stolen bases -- two each by Ryan Kalish and Bill Hall -- the Red Sox had Sunday night against Rivera, which played a big part in the Great Mariano blowing a save.

I thought I was mistaken, but I double-checked Rivera’s postseason game logs on Baseball-Reference.com, the best baseball research site on the ‘Net.

Here is the list of stolen-base attempts in postseason games when Rivera was on the mound:

--1996 World Series, Game 3, Luis Polonia, Braves; caught stealing second, thrown out by Joe Girardi.

--1999 World Series, Game 3, Otis Nixon, Braves; caught stealing second, thrown out by Girardi.

--2004 ALCS, Game 4, Dave Roberts, Red Sox; steals second, beating throw by Jorge Posada.

--2004 ALCS, Game 5, Johnny Damon, Red Sox; caught stealing second, thrown out by Posada.

--2005 ALDS, Game 1, Vladi Guerrero, Angels; steals second, beating throw by Posada.

--2009 ALCS, Game 5, Erick Aybar, Angels; steals second, beating throw by Posada.

Totals: 3 stolen bases, 3 caught stealings, in 88 postseason appearances, 133 1/3 innings, 501 batters faced. You can’t steal, of course, when you don’t get on base, and Rivera has an 0.74 ERA in the postseason, holding opponents to a .175 batting average.

But reviewing those numbers gave me an even greater appreciation for Terry Francona’s willingness to gamble with Roberts, and also an awareness of how rare it was to watch the Sox run wild on Rivera Sunday night.

No one had even attempted a stolen base against Rivera this season until September. This month, four baserunners -- Daric Barton of Oakland, Esteban German of Texas, Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay and Corey Patterson of Baltimore -- stole successfully, and in one inning Sunday, the Sox doubled that number. Until this year, the most stolen bases in a season against Rivera was six.

Is it possible that this October, teams might try to take more liberties against Rivera on the basepaths? Absolutely, said one major league scout, who had Rivera at a below-average release time of 1.4 to 1.5 seconds to the plate. And both Yankee catchers, Posada and Francisco Cervelli, have thrown out fewer than 14 percent of the baserunners who have attempted to steal.

Baseball Prospectus alum Joe Sheehan, who now has his own newsletter, disagrees. The respected Sheehan writes: "The stolen bases [Sunday] night have to be considered a fluke. Through August, no one had even attempted a steal on Rivera. In September, prior to [Sunday] night, [four] had, and all had succeeded. [Sunday] night seemed like one of those things, a combination of the weather, of having Jorge Posada behind the plate, of the surprise element of stealing third twice. It certainly looked bad, and the steals were all very valuable and nearly created a big comeback win, but it's nothing. In two years prior to [Sunday] night, there had been six total attempts against Rivera. He's not a closer against whom teams can run wild, and one weird, wet night in the Bronx doesn't change that.''

Stay tuned.