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08/26/09 1:00 AM ET

Ellsbury steals way to club record

First-inning theft 55th of season, breaking Harper's mark

BOSTON -- The record stood for more than a quarter-century, but Jacoby Ellsbury decided before the 2009 season even started that it would be left in the dust by the end of the year.

And when the Red Sox's speedy center fielder bolted for third and slid in safely in the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday night, the mission was officially accomplished.

It was Ellsbury's 55th stolen base of the season, surpassing Tommy Harper's club record set in 1973.

"It was definitely nice to do it here at home in front of the crowd," said Ellsbury. "To set a goal at the beginning of the season and to accomplish it makes it that much more enjoyable."

The accomplishment came on a night the Red Sox defeated the White Sox, 6-3.

Harper, who still lives in the Boston area, was at the game Sunday night, but not for the record-breaker.

"I'm sure he'll be here in the next couple of days, though," Ellsbury said.

Ellsbury, who fell just short of the record last season with 50 thefts, is hitting .298 with six home runs and 45 RBIs.

"Jacoby's really fast and he's got some good basestealing instincts, obviously, to have as many bags as he has," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "It's a great achievement that he had today."

The crowd erupted with applause when Ellsbury swooped in to third for the record.

"The way the fans reacted, I thought that was terrific," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Especially for a younger player. And it doesn't matter if you're young or old, he does it in the context of winning the game and to see something like that is terrific. [Harper] is one of my all-time favorite players. He was on the 1970 Brewers, and a teammate of my dad's."

Ellsbury was pretty annoyed that he didn't break the record in his rookie season of 2008.

Steal city
With a steal of third base in the first inning on Tuesday, Jacoby Ellsbury broke the Red Sox's single-season record held by Tommy Harper.
Jacoby Ellsbury552009
Tommy Harper541973
Tris Speaker521912
Jacoby Ellsbury502008
Tris Speaker461913

"I was at a pretty good pace and unfortunately I didn't get it," Ellsbury said. "But I went into the offseason, trained hard like I normally do and this year, I've just been steady with it each month. I've been consistent and happy to be healthy."

Does Ellsbury have a specific number he'd like to finish with this season?

"Harold Reynolds kind of motivated me," Ellsbury said. "He had 60 [in 1987], so 61? I want to beat Harold now. But, no, to be honest with you, when I go, there's usually a purpose behind it. I'm not just out there to steal bases. If I was out there just to steal bases, I know I could steal quite a few more. But I want to steal at a high success rate to help the team win. I know that's the important thing."

Though Ellsbury is a team player, he admitted that holding a spot in the team's record book is an accomplishment to savor.

"It's pretty exciting," Ellsbury said. "You think about all the great Red Sox players that have played before me. To be on top of the leaders in one of the categories is unbelievable. It really hasn't hit me yet, but I'm sure after the season, you look back and it'll be something that I'm proud of."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.