Padres outfielder gets great jump, makes 'Matrix-esque' slide
By AJ Cassavell
SAN DIEGO -- When he reached third base in the fourth inning of Friday night's 4-0 victory over the Rockies, Melvin Upton Jr. had no designs on stealing home. Then, he noticed Rockies starter Chris Rusin in a partial windup -- with his back to third -- and instincts took over.
With that truly brilliant baserunning play -- equal parts athleticism and baseball acumen -- Upton became the first Padre to record a straight steal of home since Everth Cabrera did so in 2012.
He's only the second player to notch a straight steal of home this season, joining Jacoby Ellsbury of the Yankees, who did so against Tampa Bay on April 23.
"I knew that he had a slow delivery to the plate out of the windup and kind of extended my lead," Upton said. "When he didn't give me a peek, I took off."
Rusin wasn't even in a full windup when Upton broke. He rocked back, took a high leg kick, and delivered -- a called strike to Padres pitcher Drew Pomeranz.
Upton broke just as Rusin began to rock. Catcher Nick Hundley was slow to hop out of his crouch, and that's when Upton made one of the more impressive slides you'll ever see.
Said Upton: "I don't know how I did it, but I got around the tag."
Slow-motion replay affords us the luxury of figuring out exactly how Upton did it.
He began the slide about 10 feet up the third-base line and angled it into fair territory. When he noticed Hundley sprawling out to meet him with the ball in his glove, Upton cleverly used his right hand as a braking mechanism. He adeptly avoided the tag with his torso, before slapping the plate with his left hand.
"Heck of a slide, huh?" said skipper Andy Green. "Almost Matrix-esque."
Before the slide, however, Green was more worried than anything else. With Pomeranz, a notorious free-hacker, at the plate, Green's first concern was the imminent danger of a potential swing.
Pomeranz, a right-handed hitter, said he saw Upton break, but initially thought it was a bluff. He didn't notice the steal-attempt was full throttle until Upton began to scream as he was halfway down the line.
"I'm glad he screamed because I probably would have swung at it, and it wouldn't have been very good," Pomeranz said. "... I had gotten pretty nervous there. I didn't know what to do so I just took a step back."
Upton has been arguably the Padres' most exciting player this season. He's recorded a pair of walk-off homers, played elite defense in left field and sits fifth in the Majors with 12 steals.
In Green's eyes, the steal was the encapsulation of Upton as a player -- athletic and savvy at the same time.
"He has tons of athleticism, and it's one of those plays that's incredibly smart when it works out," Green said. "It was really well executed on his part -- and I'm happy Drew didn't swing.
"Melvin's done everything we could possibly ask him from the beginning of the year to this point in time. Couldn't be more happy with his effort every day."
Upton also stole home in September 2007 with the Tampa Bay Rays during a game in Anaheim. But until Friday night, he had never swiped the plate as a member of the Padres.
He's tried though.
Last June against Oakland, Upton attempted the same feat -- and actually tapped the plate safely then, too. But the play was ruled a balk on then-A's starter Scott Kazmir instead, and Upton wasn't credited with a steal.
He'll get credit this time though -- well deserved for a play that bold.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.