“When I was with the Dodgers, Maury Wills once told me that there will come a point in my career when everyone in the ballpark will know that I have to steal a base, and I will steal that base. When I got out there, I knew that was what Maury Wills was talking about.”
Seventeen years ago, Red Sox manager Terry Francona called Kevin Millar back to the dugout and sent Dave Roberts into Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS as a pinch-runner. Boston needed a run. With just three outs remaining in their season, the Red Sox attempting to do something they rarely seemed to do: fight back against their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees.
“I was ready to go and Terry [Francona] told me at the top of the ninth that I’d be running for whoever got on. So when Kevin walked, Terry just looked down at me and kind of winked and said, ‘You know what to do.’ “
The moment Dave Roberts is referring to in the opening quote is now at hand. If he can get to second base, putting himself in scoring position, the Red Sox had a chance. Get thrown out by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, and the Red Sox are all but dead in the water. But what makes this worse is that it’s not just another loss to the Yankees; it was an embarrassing, humiliating defeat.
“I got out there, and [first base coach] Lynn Jones said something about a bunt and I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m stealing second.’ Apparently, he thought [third base coach Dale] Sveum had given the bunt sign, but then things were straightened out and Jones said to me, ‘Do what you do.’
Dave Roberts was in a similar position heading into Game 3 of the 2021 NLCS. The only difference is his role in the dugout. With his reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, down 2-0 to a resurgent Atlanta Braves team, the Dodgers needed to swing the momentum, and fast. Since joining the Dodgers as skipper, Dave Roberts has brought the franchise back to the dominance they experienced in the 1960s. It’s been a baseball renaissance at Chavez Ravine. But as the NLCS shifts to the West coast, these games feel different.
“I was scared, excited. I can’t tell you how many emotions went through me.”
And that’s exactly what we saw from his ballclub in their first game back at Dodger Stadium. With the series seemingly hanging in the balance, and the Dodgers down by two runs, Cody Bellinger smacked a 3-run home run. With the game now tied, and two outs in the eighth, a well-placed Mookie Betts double scores Chris Taylor, and the Dodgers take the lead. The next two LA hitters reach, and the Dodgers leave the inning with the bases loaded.
“I had a specific role. I was happy I could contribute,” Roberts said to Boston.com. “When I had an opportunity to hold up my end of the bargain, I’m glad I was able to do it.”
Normally, that would be negative for a team trying to stay in a series. But for the Dodgers, leaving the bases loaded felt like a statement. “We’re back, and we’re not going to lie down and die.” It’s almost as if, in that eighth inning, the entire Dodgers team took their opportunities and held up their end of the bargain.
Just like the man who leads them from the top of the dugout steps did, seventeen years ago.
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