(Reuters) – Dave Roberts will be in the visiting team’s dugout when the Los Angeles Dodgers open the World Series at the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, but there was a time when he was the toast of Beantown.
In a tense outing 14 years ago, Roberts, then a Red Sox pinch runner, stole the biggest base in Boston history and one that kick-started a comeback for the ages that culminated in the team’s first World Series crown since 1918.
“It is great coming back to this great city,” Roberts, now the Dodgers manager, told reporters on Monday.
“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. And the team mates I had, the coaches, and that energy that only Fenway Park has.”
With Boston on the verge of being swept by the rival New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, then-manager Terry Francona sent Roberts in to run for Kevin Millar in the ninth inning of Game Four hoping for a miracle.
The Yankees had won the first three games of the best-of-seven series and were just three outs away from advancing to the World Series.
And to deliver the knockout punch, New York had one of the greatest closers of all-time, Mariano Rivera, on the mound with a 4-3 lead.
But the speedy Roberts, who had been acquired from the Dodgers a few months earlier, had other ideas.
Roberts knew he needed to steal second base if the Red Sox were to have a chance. So did Rivera, who three times tried to pick off Roberts, almost succeeding on the second attempt.
Then it happened.
Rivera delivered a pitch and Roberts took off.
The throw from Yankees catcher Jorge Posada to shortstop Derek Jeter was a good one but somehow Roberts slid head first into second and was safe.
Roberts went on to score the tying run and Boston prevailed in extra innings and never lost a game the rest of the way, going on to snap an 86-year World Series drought with a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Roberts, who never played during the Fall Classic and was traded that offseason, said he realized his shining moment was not about him but rather the many people who have shared stories with him of where they were when it happened.
“That moment is special to them or whoever they’re with, and however they identify that play with that particular moment. And for to them to want to share that with me, that’s pretty humbling,” said Roberts.
“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 heart warming than that.”
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Peter Rutherford