BOSTON – In the souvenir store across from Fenway Park, it will set you back $100 for a framed, autographed photo of “The Steal,” Dave Roberts’ stolen base in the 2004 AL Championship Series that kick-started the Red Sox comeback against the New York Yankees and ended Boston’s 86-year title drought.
“We used to have a big panorama of it,” the clerk, Nick Fosman, said, “but we sold out of them a while ago.”
Other mementos from that drought-busting championship may fade, but the intervening years have done little to dim Roberts’ legacy in Boston since he helped the Red Sox rally from a three-games-to-none deficit against the rival Yankees en route to their first World Series crown since 1918.
Now, as he returns to Boston as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he will be trying to prevent the city that celebrates him from claiming a fourth title this century. Even so, Roberts can expect a big cheer when he is introduced before Game 1 on Tuesday night.
“Obviously, for me personally I have a lot of fond memories of the Red Sox and Fenway Park,” he said after the Dodgers clinched the NL pennant and advanced to the Series for the second straight year. “To be wearing another uniform going in there playing for a World Series championship is going to be special for me.”
Havlicek stole the ball, Orr sailed through the air, and Vinatieri split the uprights (twice) to cement themselves in Boston sports history. But few athletes have squeezed their way into the city’s lore like Roberts.
A trade deadline acquisition who was obtained for his speed, he hadn’t played in 10 days when he entered Game 4 of the ’04 ALCS as a pinch runner in the ninth inning at Fenway. The Red Sox trailed 4-3 in the game, and 0-3 in the best-of-seven series.
Roberts stole second, then slid home to score tying run that began Boston’s unprecedented comeback. He pinch-ran again, and scored again, in Game 5, but he never appeared in another game for the Red Sox, standing by as they swept the St. Louis Cardinals to set off a celebration that generations of New Englanders had been waiting for.
“He came here. He stole that base,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was Roberts’ teammate with the Dodgers in ’04 and helped console him after he was traded. “I texted him right after he stole second base. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but if this happens, you’re going to become a hero.’
“And he is, here in this city.”
Cora was in his last year as a full-time player with the Dodgers in ’04, and three years and two teams later he was a utility infielder in Boston when the Red Sox went back to the Series. He entered Game 1 as a defensive replacement and had his only plate appearance in Game 3, when he laid down a ninth-inning sacrifice bunt that led to an insurance run.
It was his only World Series appearance as a player.
“I didn’t take one swing in the World Series, and I feel like I accomplished (something), I was part of the equation,” said Cora, who also won ring as a bench coach for the Houston Astros last season.
The lesson, he said, is not lost on his players.
“Every night somebody can step up, and somebody can be that guy,” Cora said Sunday. “They know. They understand. … Everybody is all-in, and everybody knows that when they have a chance, they’ve got a role and they can contribute.”
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