Roberts gets hero's welcome
Steal in Game 4 of 2004 ALCS a vivid memory for veteran
BOSTON -- When it came to packing his belongings for his first series at Fenway Park since the magical postseason of 2004, Dave Roberts surely didn't need to bring his wallet. It's fairly safe to say that most establishments in the Boston area -- not to mention all corners of Red Sox Nation -- will have his dining expenses covered for life.
That is what happens in these parts when you record one of the most significant stolen bases in the history of baseball and help a team break an 86-year World Series championship drought in the process.
So that is why Roberts received a loud standing ovation of nearly a minute when he dug in for his at-bat in the top of the first inning of Friday night's Red Sox-Giants game.
The always-appreciative Roberts waved in all directions of Fenway and even gestured a few fist pumps toward the Boston faithful.
Part of the hero's welcome for Roberts included a packed press conference in the visitors' dugout before the game.
"It's been marked on my calendar for a long time," said Roberts. "Just flying in, it brought a smile to my face. Getting to walk around the city last night and taking a cab over here to Fenway Park and just seeing some of my old teammates, things like that ... it was just a special time and fans here, they waited a long time for what we did in 2004. To be a part of a great team like that and be a part of history, it's a humbling experience, it really is."
So Roberts took it all in -- the memories, the raucous ovation from the crowd -- and promptly led the game off with a single to right. He scored on a double to right by Mark Sweeney.
One can only make an educated guess of how the course of Red Sox history might have been changed had Roberts not stolen that base against Mariano Rivera with the Sox down by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning and three outs away from being swept right out of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
Before Friday's game, Roberts was in the clubhouse when he noticed his legendary steal being shown on a highlight show.
"With that said, as I watched the footage from three years ago to two years ago to when I just saw it in the clubhouse today, it gets closer and closer every single time," said Roberts. "And I swear, I hope five, 10, 20 years down the road Joe West doesn't change his mind and call me out. I don't know, it does seem like it was a lot closer than I thought it was."
Roberts then went into detail on how he grabbed the bag that set up Bill Mueller's game-tying hit and David Ortiz's walk-off homer in the 12th.
Interestingly, Roberts said he would not have taken off on Rivera's first pitch if not for the three pickoff throws. Those pickoff attempts enabled Roberts to adjust to Rivera's timing.
"The first [throw] I felt I got the jitters and then it kind of dissipated a little bit," said Roberts. "The second time the jitters were all gone and I was really into it. After the third pick over was a close play, I think the second one was really close also, and then I felt like I had been there from the first inning on.
"At that point I knew, regardless of a slide step or whatever, once he goes home, I'm going to run on the pitch. If he would have went to the plate the first pitch, I wouldn't have went. Running down that tunnel in October, it's hard to get loose. But that kind of helped me out a little bit."
The rest, as they say, is history.
"When I went out here today, you look at the wall and [remember] hearing the cheers from the ring ceremony," said Roberts. "And thinking about the duck boats and all the game-winning hits that Papi had and that celebration at home plate, all those memories came back and hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel like a rookie again. All these emotions getting to you. But to be a big-league player, that's what it's all about."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.