Sizemore went into the dugout on a cloud. "I'll never forget it," he says. "It was a rush." But the crowd's roar brought his attention back to the field. As befits a true work of art, Sizemore's theft proved to be of aesthetic value only. Two pitches later, Hafner had homered.
IV. YOU CAN WAIT FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE, OR YOU CAN RUN ON ANDY PETTITTE
"One look," says Pettitte. He's standing at his locker, demonstrating what it would take to get runners to stop trying to steal home on him. "You look them back; they're not going to go. It's not very difficult."
Pettitte is one of the top pitchers of his generation. He has won 240 games and never had a losing season. He also has one of the best moves to first base. Yet he has the distinction of having allowed three steals of home during his career, two more than any other active pitcher. (The bar for ignominy was set far higher in previous eras. Nolan Ryan allowed eight steals of home, including one by Amos Otis in 1972 that was the only run of the game. Gaylord Perry, also a Hall of Famer, allowed six, despite adopting the pragmatic strategy of throwing at the batter whenever he saw a runner break from third, in hopes of hitting him and creating a dead ball.)
Why Pettitte? On the mound he has formidable powers of concentration. He visualizes the pitch that he's about to throw, sees it cross the plate and land in the catcher's mitt. "I get so locked in, trying to pitch out of a serious jam and get that third out, I let my guard down," he says.
So imagine you're Mike Sweeney. You're watching Pettitte mow down your Royals into the sixth, allowing only an occasional scratch hit. You belt a double to tie the game, get to third, then realize this: Pettitte has no idea you're even in the ballpark. "It was like a light went on," Sweeney says.
Sweeney gestured to Rich Dauer, the third base coach. Dauer burst out laughing. "Sween Dog," he said, "if you make it, you'll be on SportsCenter tonight." Sweeney headed up the chain of command. His eyes found manager Tony Peña's in the dugout. "I motion in, I point down," Sweeney says, "like, This pitch I'm going to steal. And Tony looks at me, and he does it back. We didn't have a sign for it. Just baseball language."
Pettitte came to the stretch and closed his eyes to visualize. Sweeney started running. From shortstop, Derek Jeter yelled, "Step off!" But it was too late. "Forty thousand people at the K, just going crazy," Sweeney recalls. "We'd just taken a 2--1 lead against the Yankees. I went into the dugout, and Tony gives me a hug, and then he says, 'That was awesome, Mikey, but what the hell were you doing?' " Shocked, Sweeney responded that he'd flashed the sign, and Peña had flashed it back. "No, Mikey," Peña said, "that meant, Ball in the dirt, you be ready to run."
Toronto coach Brian Butterfield knew about the pitcher's tendency to lapse into a virtual fugue state on the mound. When he heard about Sweeney's swipe, he filed it away for future use, in the way that baseball lifers do. And when Blue Jays hitters gathered before the Yankees in May 2007, Butterfield mentioned that Pettitte might be had. He was sitting in the coaches' room when second baseman Aaron Hill walked past. Butterfield called out, "You have your cues in case you get to third base with two out?" Hill looked befuddled, then remembered. "I got it," he said.
Hill doesn't have the personality of someone who would steal home on his own. He's the paratrooper who doesn't so much jump out of the airplane as get pushed. "First and third with one out, ball one, and Brian comes up and says, 'If the count gets to 1 and 1, you're hot,'" Hill says. "I was almost thinking, Oh, please, don't throw a strike. I was starting to breathe heavy. Next pitch is strike one. So there I go."