Caught stealing on a pitch-out in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 11-7 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s streak of stolen bases to begin his career was stopped at 25, two shy of the major league of 27 set by Tim Raines in 1979. Through Sunday, the rookie flycatcher has 16 steals in 40 games this season; counting the nine he stole in 33 games played last season, his 25 is still the most by a first-year Boston player since “Leaping” Mike Menosky in 1920. Ellsbury still has a ways to go beat the franchise single-season record of 54 stolen bases set by outfielder Tommy Harper in 1973, who was also caught in 14 further attempts; at present, factoring in the number of games played versus the number of games played by the Sox, he is on pace to steal 56, which would be just enough to move him into the number one spot in club history.
If Ellsbury eventually wants to claim the franchise record for career stolen bases, it may take him a few more years. Former outfielder Harry Hooper, the only starter to play on all four World Series championship teams between 1912 and 1918, stole 300 in his 12 seasons in a Red Sox uniform, putting him first place all-time with the club. Hooper’s teammate for two of those championships, Tris Speaker, sits in second place with 267 over nine seasons, and another former Boston outfielder, Carl Yastrzemski, stole 168 over 23 seasons. Only 12 former players have managed 100 or more steals with the traditionally slow-footed club and most of the top base-stealers set their marks prior to World War II; since that time, Boston has relied more on the strength of its bats rather than its speed on the base paths.
02 October 1972 – On this day thirty-five years ago, Boston loses the first game of a crucial three-game series in Detroit, 4-1, thanks in part to a costly base-running mishap by the Red Sox. Six months earlier, the start of the 1972 season is delayed by baseball’s first player’s strike; upon its conclusion one week after the regular season is set to begin, Major League Baseball decides not to make up any of the lost games on the schedule. As a result, the Red Sox lose seven games to the strike while the Tigers lose six. Now with the regular season nearing its conclusion, the division title comes down to a final three-game series in Detroit, with the Red Sox ahead of the Tigers by a half-game in first place; whoever takes two-of-three would be American League East division champions.
In the opener, Detroit jumps to an early 1-0 lead but Boston appears to have a rally started in the top half of the third inning when, with one out, left fielder Tommy Harper singles and shortstop Luis Aparicio follows with a ground ball single to left, moving Harper to third. With runners on the corners, Carl Yastrzemski, playing first base, steps to the plate and hits a deep shot to center field for what seems like a sure triple. Harper easy strolls home and the fleet-footed Aparicio races from first looking to cross the plate as well. However, as he nears the third-base bag, Aparicio stumbles suddenly, then slips on the bag and falls into foul territory; he immediately gets up to return to the base. Unfortunately, Yastrzemski, who has not seen the miscue, motors around second with his head down, thinking he had an easy triple; to his surprise, Yaz arrives at third only to find his teammate still there. Aparicio makes a final attempt to head home but slips again on the wet grass and scrambles back to third; Yastrzemski has no choice but to try and return to second, but he’s easily tagged out by Tigers third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez.
With Aparicio still standing on third, the next batter, Reggie Smith, strikes out to end the frame; from there, Boston never recovers, reaching third base only once other time as Tigers starter Mickey Lolich pitches a complete game, striking out 15 while allowing just the one run, and Detroit walks away with a 4-1 win in the opener. Any chance to salvage the series ends the following day as the visiting Red Sox lose again, 3-1; a meaningless 4-1 win on the final day of the season is to no satisfaction as it leaves Boston with a final record of 85-70, exactly a half-game behind Detroit at 86-70 and out of post-season contention for the fifth straight season.