Jacoby Ellsbury steals game and sends message

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi deemed Jacoby Ellsbury, his $153 million center fielder, was the man to sit Friday night against Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore. But when Aaron Hicks, the player anointed to replace Ellsbury in the Yankees' lineup, injured his shoulder diving for a ball in the fourth inning and had to leave the game, Girardi had no choice but to insert Ellsbury into the game.

You can bet he's glad he did. Ellsbury, who was benched because Girardi thinks the right-handed hitting Hicks is better than he against lefties, stroked a two-out single in the fifth, advanced to second on a hit by Didi Gregorius, and moved to third on a balk.

Then came the fun. With Moore struggling to locate the plate against Brett Gardner, Ellsbury took a walking lead off third on a full count pitch to Gardner, and as Moore went into his windup, he sprinted toward home. He belly-flopped as the pitch arrived, his right hand clearly slipping across the plate before Rays catcher Curt Casali could apply the tag. The stolen run tied the score at 3-3 as the Yankees went on to a 6-3 victory over the Rays, snapping a three-game losing streak. Ellsbury also drove in the final two insurance runs with a double smoked into the right-field corner in the eighth.

But the steal of home was easily the most electrifying moment of Ellsbury's Yankees career, which has been marred by injury, underperformance, and a seeming loss of confidence from his manager, who has taken to benching either he or Gardner when a left-hander is starting for the opposition. The always low-key Ellsbury will never admit it, but it sure looked like he was trying to send a message back to the Yankees' dugout.

It was Ellsbury's second career steal of home -- his last one came April 26, 2009, at Fenway Park, when as a member of the Boston Red Sox. He victimized, yes, the New York Yankees.

The last Yankee to accomplish a straight steal of home was Derek Jeter on May 5, 2001, against the Orioles in Baltimore.