ST. PETERSBURG — Randy Arozarena made history in less time than it took to read this sentence.
His steal of home on Thursday night in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston will last forever in baseball lore, yet took under three seconds to complete. Statcast had Arozarena moving at slightly better than 19 mph in what was arguably the first straight steal of home in the postseason since Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series.
“The calendar switched to October, and he just kind of woke up,” Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “He is like, ‘It’s my time to go and my time to shine again.’ ”
If the play happened in a flash, the prelude was a bit more complicated. It took a perfect set of circumstances — a left-handed pull hitter like Lowe at the plate, the Red Sox in an exaggerated shift, a left-handed pitcher on the mound, the right count to steal on — for it to come together.
And, of course, it took Arozarena’s speed, instincts and bravado.
“We’ve got a lot of fearless players,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Nobody’s fearless like that guy.”
The intrigue began from almost the moment Arozarena reached third base with two out in the seventh inning. When he saw third baseman Rafael Devers wasn’t holding him on and was, in fact, playing closer to a shortstop’s position, Arozarena told third base coach Rodney Linares that he could steal home.
“Randy talks a lot. He kept turning around and telling me, ‘I’m going.’ I’m like, ‘No, not now, not now.’ ” Linares said. “I’m glad I don’t get mic-ed up because there’s a lot of awkward conversations over there.”
Linares kept sneaking peeks into the Rays dugout, but Cash did not give the green light because he wanted Lowe to have a chance to hit. Arozarena was getting a ridiculously large lead and faked a steal, but the Red Sox kept Devers 40 feet away from third base. So when Boston pitcher Josh Taylor got two strikes on Lowe, Cash figured a steal attempt was worth the gamble and gave the signal to Linares.
Linares walked over to Arozarena and told him he was free to go if he thought he could make it. Arozarena stayed put on the next pitch, and Lowe fouled it off. This time, Linares told Arozarena to go as soon as Taylor came to a set position.
From that point, multiple things happened one after another in rapid fashion:
1. Arozarena took off for home and got six steps down the line before Taylor, whose back was turned to him, realized what was happening.
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2. Lowe saw Arozarena coming but didn’t want to alert the Red Sox and waited a split second before he backed out of the batter’s box.
3. Catcher Christian Vazquez came out of his squat and began yelling and pointing to Taylor.
4. Taylor executed a near perfect throw home, stepping off the back of the rubber first so he wasn’t called for a balk.
5. Arozarena went airborne at least 10 feet from the plate and landed in the clay in the right-handed batter’s box before sliding across just ahead of Vazquez’s tag.
“You don’t see that very often, so it was very impressive,” Vazquez said. “He is an electric kid.”
If it seemed everyone in the stadium was holding their breath during Arozarena’s break for the plate, Linares was standing stoically outside the coaching box with his hands on his hips. Devers had been eyeballing him for several pitches and Linares said he was trying to be nonchalant so as not to tip off the steal. He finally lifted his arm in triumph when Arozarena crossed the plate.
“The best thing was Rodney’s reaction,” Cash said. “I’ve watched it 50 times now.”
There have been other steals of home in the postseason in the past half-century, but they usually involve a hitter attempting a bunt or a runner on first base breaking for second and trying to draw a throw. Arozarena’s dash home was like something out of a black-and-white highlight reel.
“If you go back and look, he waved (Devers) off like kind of (fooling) around, like get away from me,” Cash said. “Maybe that baited the situation, gave them comfort like if he’s going act that way, there’s no way he’s gonna go.
“But that was awesome. It was awesome.”
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