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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #101: Dave Roberts

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes a player cements himself in our collective hearts with a single play. To start off the second hundred of this list, we have one of those.

Dave Roberts didn’t have much of a major league career as a player. 832 games played in ten years for five teams. A .266 average with 721 hits, he could run, and had 243 stolen bases. His most notable steal, and perhaps the most iconic stolen base in major league history, came during his brief stint with the Red Sox.

Roberts came to Boston at the 2004 trade deadline, in exchange for minor leaguer Henri Stanley (who never made the majors). It was the small-print transaction of the day, overshadowed by the news that Nomah had been traded. Little did we know at the time that the Roberts acquisition would figure so huge in the team’s postseason fortunes.

During the remainder of the 2004 regular season, Roberts backed up Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. In just 45 games, he hit .256 with five steals. Not the stuff of legend. A glance at his playoff box scores that fall would indicate he didn’t have much impact there either. He made one appearance in the ALDS as a pinch runner and didn’t score. He didn’t play in the World Series at all. He made two pinch-running appearances in the ALCS against the Yankees, and that’s where the box score gives no insight into the enormity of his contribution.

We all know what happened in Game 4 of that series. Down three games to none against New York, the Sox were cooked. Trailing in the bottom of the ninth by a run against Uber-closer Mariano Rivera, this thing was done. Except Kevin Millar walked. Then Roberts went in to run for him. And he promptly stole second, just under the tag of Uber-captain Derek Jeter. Somehow, the Sox were in business, and Bill Mueller’s single brought the speedy Roberts home to tie the game. Eventually David Ortiz would win the thing with a walk-off homer in the 12th, and Boston would go on to come all the way back, the first team ever to rally from a 3-0 playoff deficit.

Dave Roberts had no at-bats during the 2004 playoffs. He appeared only three times during the team’s 14 postseason games. And yet his crucial clutch steal is one of the indelible memories we all have of that seminal moment in franchise and regional history. Never think you can’t make a difference with a modest opportunity. Dave Roberts sure did.

Oh, and thanks for the 2018 title too.

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