BOSTON – Once an October hero around here, always an October hero.
The opposing manager in any World Series is typically booed long and lustily during pregame introductions. Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, to the surprise of no one, was the exception Tuesday night. When he was introduced at Fenway Park before Game 1, Roberts received a loud ovation.
That’s because, as longtime Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, Roberts is an October legend in this city because of a somewhat famous stolen base.
“It changed history for this organization,” said Pedroia, limited to three games this season because of a knee injury. “If he doesn’t steal that bag, who knows what happens?”
Yankees fans have a pretty good idea.
It was the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS at Fenway, and the Red Sox were beaten. They trailed the Yankees 4-3 entering the ninth, with the incomparable Mariano Rivera on the mound to close out a presumed sweep.
But Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk and Roberts, 32, a trade deadline acquisition from the Dodgers, of all teams, was inserted a pinch runner for one purpose and one purpose only.
“That was his job, he’s coming in and everybody in the world knows he’s trying to steal,” said Pedroia, a second-round draft pick of the Red Sox that June who was playing in the Arizona Fall League at the time. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, do you know how hard that is?’ It’s a lot to ask.”
Roberts barely stole second – Jorge Posada threw a dart and Derek Jeter’s swipe tag was a millisecond late – and scored the tying run on a Bill Mueller single up the middle moments later. The Red Sox would win in 12 innings, the start of a historic comeback from an 0-3 series deficit, leading to their first World Series title in 86 years. The Red Sox have won three rings since Roberts’ steal; the Yankees have won one.
Roberts and Red Sox manager Alex Cora were teammates on the ’04 Dodgers and are close friends. Cora recalled Roberts not being thrilled about being traded across the country. The Dodgers, after all, were postseason-bound that season as well, though they would end up losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals in four games.
“I still remember, he was crushed,” Cora said. “That [the Dodgers] was a good baseball team. And they decided to make a few moves, to say the least. And he was part of it. I remember, I told him, I said, ‘Hey, man, you're going to a great city. They have a chance to do something special. You never know.’ And all of a sudden he's signing for a lot of money here.”
Roberts laughed when that comment was relayed to him.
“Probably not as lucrative as Alex made it sound,” he said. “It is great coming back to this great city. I've got nothing but great memories, even flying into Logan [International Airport] and just this time of year, this city, the leaves changing. And then you drive up to Fenway Park and it all just kind of comes back to you, 2004.”
Roberts said hardly a day goes by that he isn’t reminded of the play, which he embraces.
“I think the key that I've really grown to appreciate is it's not about me,” he said. “I understand that it was a big play for me, for the Red Sox and our club in 2004, but understanding that everyone has a moment. That moment is special to them or whoever they're with, and however they identify that play with that particular moment. And for them to want to share that with me, that's pretty humbling.
"So I've really grown to love to hear the different stories. I've heard stories of parents on their deathbed and got to see it, and then finally gave way once they saw us win a championship. And it doesn't get more impactful or heartwarming than that."
The stolen base remains frozen in time here – Pedroia joked that he’s seen it “thousands of times” – as it is often part of any prolonged highlight reel that plays at Fenway.
“We see it all the time here now because it was such a big play in Red Sox history,” Red Sox utilityman Brock Holt said. “It’s funny to see Dave Roberts now trying to beat us in the World Series. I think it’s a pretty cool story.”