The wait was finally over for Rickey Henderson, which was only appropriate since the left fielder for the Oakland A's hadn't done much waiting all season.
Henderson stole his 119th, 120th, 121st, and 122nd bases of the season in Oakland's 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at County Stadium tonight, breaking the previous record of 118 set by Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974. Brock, now a broadcaster for the Cardinals, was at the game.
"Now I can go out there and relax a little more," Henderson said. "I think that when you go out and set a record but don't get a win, there isn't that much enjoyment. Winning the game was the first thing on my mind."
After failing to bunt his way on leading off the game, Henderson walked with two out and no one on base in the third inning. Mike Heath and Fred Stanley had grounded to shortstop Robin Yount before Henderson walked on four pitches off starter Doc Medich.
The crowd of more than 41,000 began a rhythmic clapping as Henderson sprinted to first base. The chowd began booing as Medich lobbed the ball over to first in an attempt to keep Henderson close.
Four times Medich threw over to first before he threw a pitch to batter Wayne Gross. Each time Henderson got back safely. When Medich finally turned his attention to the plate, catcher Ted Simmons called for a pitchout and Henderson was off and running. Simmons' throw was a shade toward the first base side of the bag and Henderson, with his now famous head-first slide, had stolen base number 119.
Henderson immediately jumped to his feet, pulled the base from its mooring and held it aloft in triumph. The game was halted for several minutes as Henderson was congratulated by several Brewers and a brief ceremony was held at home plate.
Brock and American League President Lee MacPhail joined Henderson and dozens of photographers on the field. "I'm really relieved that it's all over," said a smiling Henderson at a postgame press conference.Henderson said he didn't have his mind made up when he reached first base in the third inning that this would be the time he would steal.
"I was just waiting for a sign from my manager and trying to relax," he said. "I didn't want to get tight. The biggest thing in my mind then was not to get picked off, to get a good lead and a good jump."
Henderson stole base No. 120 after leading off the A's half of the sixth with a walk. This time, Henderson chose the second pitch to Gross to run on and he beat Simmons' high throw easily. He scored on a single to center by Gross. Murphy followed with a two-run home run to put the A's in front, 3-2.
The Brewers went ahead for good on Jim Gantner's two-run single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth.
Henderson said he was looking forward to a rest, something promised by Manager Billy Martin. "I do want to take a couple of days off," Henderson said. "Today has been really exhausting. But we've just lost two games in a row and we need a win badly. Maybe I'll take those days off a little later down the road."