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Jacoby Ell-ectrifies Yankee Stadium with steal of home

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees did not sign Jacoby Ellsbury to miss more than 50 games in a season because of injuries, as he did last year, or to be left out of the starting lineup, as he was last October for their first playoff game in three years, or to ride the bench when they face a left-hander like Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, as Joe Girardi chose to do Friday night.

They signed him to ignite their offense, upset the opposition and electrify their fan base.

They signed him for moments like the one he provided in the fifth inning of a game in which he was not supposed to play, in a situation that almost never occurs, in a game that the manager had previously said his team absolutely had to win. They signed him to do things like steal home, as he did to tie the score in a 6-3 victory over the Rays that ended the Yankees' three-game losing streak.

That is why they chose to give him $153 million of the money they decided not to give Robinson Cano, and to commit seven years to him despite the risk of signing a player whose game depends almost entirely on his legs even though he will be pushing his 37th birthday by the end of the deal.

Unfortunately for Ellsbury, and especially for the Yankees, there haven't been many of the kind of moments he provided Friday night. But for one night at least, Ellsbury afforded the Yankees and their fans a glimpse of the player they thought they were getting when they made that deal in December 2013.

"I think he's as important to this club as anyone because of the talent level that he has, his ability to play center field, his ability to steal bases, his ability to get on base and cause trouble," Girardi said after it was all over, although three hours earlier he had decided that Aaron Hicks, a right-handed batter who was hitting .095 after his first 21 at-bats as a Yankee, was a better bet in the lineup against Moore.

"We can go over this all day," a testy Girardi said when asked after the game to explain his reasoning in benching Ellsbury for Hicks. "Everyone talked about how everyone got tired last year. So now when I sit a guy, everyone wants to know why he's not playing. It's a long season. I've got to make sure that our guys are healthy the whole way through. And we're trying to get Hicksy going."

Hicksy, unfortunately, was going, going, gone after bruising his left shoulder diving after a ball in the fourth inning, forcing Girardi's hand. And Ellsbury, who has no doubt been stung by the manager's apparent lack of confidence in him, wasted no time in showing everyone what a mistake it was to keep him out of the lineup.

With two out in the fifth, he singled off Moore, and then advanced to second on Didi Gregorius' hit. After Moore balked the runners to second and third, the thought started dancing in Ellsbury's head: Maybe I can steal home.

After all, the conditions were optimum: Left-handed pitcher, with his back to the runner, on the mound. Left-handed batter (Brett Gardner) at the plate, providing a clear running lane. And a pitcher who inexplicably decided to go into a windup, which afforded the speedy Ellsbury an extra tick or two.

From the dugout, Girardi sent a signal to third base coach Joe Espada, who told Ellsbury, "You know what, Jake, we can steal home here."

That was on a 3-1 pitch, which Gardner took for a strike. Espada tried again. "We got this here," he told Espada. "Let's go. And he went."

Ellsbury took a large walking lead, unseen by Moore, and then broke into a sprint as the lefty went into his windup. The pitch was just high enough to allow Ellsbury, who dove in headfirst, to slide his hand across the plate before catcher Curt Casali could get the tag down.

"I'm still stunned about what happened. I've never seen that," Brian McCann said. "With two strikes? You kidding me? The greatest thing I've ever seen. I mean, if Gardner swings, he loses a head."

"That was the risk I was willing to take," deadpanned Ellsbury, who was not doing bravado but reciting a line from "Dumb and Dumber," one of his favorite movies.

He clearly enjoyed the moment -- YES Network cameras caught him smiling broadly in the dugout after scoring -- and his satisfaction was underlined by the fact that he spent more than 11 minutes chatting with the media, a group he generally tries to (politely) avoid.

"It was fun, it was exciting, it was rare, which makes it even more exciting," he said. "It's the ultimate adrenaline rush for a base stealer. As a player, you're like, hey did that just happen?"

It was the second time Ellsbury accomplished a straight steal of home -- he victimized Andy Pettitte and the Yankees in 2009 -- and proudly pointed out that he was now 2-for-2 in the rarest of stolen bases.

"You just got to be 100 percent committed to go," he said. "If you have any doubt in your head, you're not going to make it."

And while he sidestepped the question of whether he was trying to send a message to the Yankees dugout about the kind of player he has been, and can be again, Ellsbury acknowledged, "In my career, I've swung the bat pretty well against lefties."

Ellsbury also doubled in a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning, and with Hicks injured -- Girardi said he was day to day -- it is unlikely he would be asked to sit Saturday, when the Rays start another left-hander, Blake Snell, a highly-touted prospect being called up from Triple-A to make the start.

"I just go out there, prepare and be ready to go whenever my name's called," he said. "Any time you put pressure on the defense, any time you're running, just creating havoc on the field, it puts pressure on defenses. You never know what's going to happen."

That is exactly why the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, and Friday night, he did his best to remind them of it.