On April 26, in a packed Fenway Park and in the midst of the biggest rivalry in this sport, the perfect storm of events gave Ellsbury the chance to accomplish the rare feat he's always pondered -- a steal of home.
With the lefty-hitting J.D. Drew at the plate, left-hander Andy Pettitte pitching and Jorge Posada catching, the Red Sox had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the fifth while sporting a one-run lead.
Ellsbury received no signs from the dugout and no indications from third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, but he did notice Pettitte pitching out of the windup, Yankees third baseman Angel Berroa playing off the bag and that inner voice he had heard so many times before -- "Take a chance; you can do this."
"I joke around with DeMarlo all the time about how I can steal home, but when I saw Andy in his windup on the previous pitch, I was thinking, 'I can make it,'" Ellsbury said later that evening. "It's just a matter of going at that point."
That point came on a 1-0 count. As Pettitte's windup toward the plate began, Ellsbury's secondary lead got bigger, until he took off hard for the plate and -- despite a slight stumble toward the end -- easily slid in safely ahead of Posada's tag, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 lead in an eventual victory and prompting a euphoric roar from the 38,154 in attendance.
Despite so much brainstorming, it was Ellsbury's first steal of home since well before college.
"There's a lot of times the last few years when he's said, 'I can get it,' but the situation just didn't call for it," Hale said after that game, which resulted in a 4-1 win that gave the Red Sox 10 consecutive victories.
"Tonight was a situation where it all came together -- where the pitcher was in the windup, the third baseman was off the bag, he was able to get a very big lead and it was a left-handed batter. And it was a strike. There were a lot of factors there. It was positive that he wasn't afraid to take the chance."
This act of pure instincts was the 26-year-old's 10th stolen base of the 2009 season -- one that ended with a career-high 70 -- and the first steal of home by a Red Sox player since Jose Offerman did so on the front end of a double steal on Aug. 30, 1999, against the Royals. The last time a Red Sox player had a pure steal of home like Ellsbury's was when Billy Hatcher did it on April 22, 1994.
Pettitte has amassed 229 career wins, sports a 3.90 ERA in 40 postseason starts and owns five World Series rings. But he's allowed two steals of home -- the first one was to Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays on May 29, 2007 -- and the potential Hall of Famer could do nothing but let his mouth hang open in sheer shock after Ellsbury completely took him by surprise.
"I watched him out of the corner of my eye and just didn't think I needed to go to the stretch," Pettitte said. "I saw him take off and sped through my windup to kind of throw a ball in there. I thought we might have a chance to get him, but obviously, he's extremely fast."
Good thing, too, because that was no time for Ellsbury to run into an out.
"It could be one of the worst baserunning mistakes if you don't make it," Ellsbury said, "but I was pretty confident I could get in there and make it, so that's why I went."
Afterwards, manager Terry Francona made a point that was crystal clear after what his young center fielder pulled off that night: "What we have is a really fast player with some guts."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.