The right runner needs to be on third base. The right pitcher has to be on the mound. And, most importantly, it has to be a surprise attack that completely catches the opposition off guard.
Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill found that perfect combination with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when he stole home off of Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte to break a 1-1 tie in Toronto's series clinching 3-2 win.
"I definitely felt my heart beating, that's for sure," Hill said. "I've never done that. I didn't know what was going to happen. I just pictured the umpire calling me safe and hoped that'd give me a little extra boost."
With the count 1-1, and Jays catcher Jason Phillips on first base, Hill got the go ahead from third-base coach Brian Butterfield to steal home if the opportunity was there.
As Pettitte went into the stretch, he turned his head turned toward first base in anticipation of the next pitch, and Hill made a break for home plate. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Jorge Posada began screaming and wildly waving their arms, desperately trying to get Pettitte's attention. By the time Pettitte realized what was happening, though, it was too late. Pettitte threw home too late and Hill slid home just under Posada's tag.
It's the first time a member of the Jays has stolen home since former designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand did it on Aug. 6, 2005, against the Yankees. The last time a Toronto player did a straight steal of home, was Raul Mondesi on April 17, 2001 -- also against the Yankees.
Hill says the execution of the play was all about timing.
"You've got to go as soon as you can when any left-hander turns his back to you," Hill said. "Obviously, you can't wait until he comes set or anything like that. He's looking forward, and right when he starts to bring his hands up and starts looking at first base, that's really the only time you can go."
What makes the unique play even more bizarre is that according to Jays manager John Gibbons, it was planned prior to the start of Tuesday night's game.
"Before the game, Butterfield came up to me," Gibbons said. "Butter knows these guys well, and he said, 'Hey, there might be an opportunity where we get a chance to steal home.' I said, 'Well, if it's there, go for it.' He put that on, and Hilly executed it perfectly. You don't see that too often. It was an exciting play."
Butterfield says it was a perfect situation to try and take a risk.
"This isn't the only situation that we've had a plan," Butterfield said. "It just so happened that everything was right. We had an aggressive baserunner at third base and we had a runner at first base. We were deep into the game and [Pettitte] had really pitched well, so it was kind of one of those roll-the-dice type things where you hope that you get the right break."
Pettitte was caught completely off guard by the play, but when players on the field started yelling ,it actually made things worse. He said for a split second he thought he had been called for a balk by the home plate umpire.
It's not the first time that someone has stolen home off of Pettitte, but he says the situation in which Hill did it in, makes it even worse.
"I know someone stole home off of me a long time ago in the windup," Pettitte said. "But to be out of the stretch, what can you say? It's embarrassing. The guy's able to get home and cost you a ballgame."
The play is more like something Pettitte would expect to see in the National League, where he spent the last three seasons with the Astros. When he crossed leagues he thought he left that kind of small-ball behind him.
"I didn't think that you could lose an American League ballgame like that," Pettitte said. "It was a little unconventional I'd say tonight, but you've got to tip your hat to them. They won the game and did a great job of figuring out a way to win."
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.