Roberts Flashed with Tribe Before Dash for Red Sox
What if I told you the man who helped Boston reverse the Curse of the Bambino began his career with a Chief Wahoo patch on his sleeve? Would you believe me?
Dave Roberts is this week’s Flash.
That’s right, folks. The man who infamously stole second base for Boston in the 2004 ALCS to start the historic comeback actually began his career with the 1999 Indians.
Roberts was drafted by the Tigers in 1994, but didn’t become an Indian until 1998 when he was acquired from Detroit along with Tim Worrell for Geronimo Berroa. The Indians drafted Roberts in 1993, but he didn’t sign.
In only 41 games with the playoff-bound Indians in 1999, Roberts got his feet wet, but only barely. He hit .238 with his first two homers and 12 RBI. Roberts made the playoff roster that year and went 0-3 with two strikeouts in Boston’s memorable ALDS comeback against the Indians (possible foreshadowing?).
The next season, Roberts’ playing time was much more limited. He only played in 19 games while going 2-10 at the plate. The next year, his action was even more limited as he only played in 15 games. In those 15 games, he went 4-12 with two RBI. It wasn’t enough for the Indians to put him on the playoff roster, though. In fact, it wasn’t enough for the Indians to keep him, as they traded Roberts to the Dodgers for Christian Bridenbaugh and Nial Hughes.
While playing for the Dodgers in 2002, Roberts finally became an every day player. In his first full season manning the outfield, Roberts hit .277 with three homers and 34 RBI. That was also when many fans discovered how big a threat he could be once he reached base. He stole 45 bases that year and was only caught 10 times. He was also very patient at the plate, drawing 48 walks compared to only 51 strikeouts.
Despite many of his offensive numbers slipping the next season, the thing that remained constant was Roberts’ ability to steal bases. He stole 40 bases in 54 opportunities in 2003 and started off 2004 by stealing an astonishing 33 in 34 chances. However, despite the fact that the Dodgers were on their way to a playoff berth, they traded Roberts to the Red Sox for Henri Stanley – a hitter who would never make it to the Majors. Meanwhile, Roberts was on his way to immortalizing himself.
It’s Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The Yankees have had no trouble of disposing the Red Sox through the first three games of the series and appear to have their spikes on the throats of the Red Sox with Mariano Rivera on the mound. It all looks bleak for the Sox because Rivera is automatic come October. No questions asked.
Bottom of the ninth. Sox trail 4-3. Kevin Millar draws a walk against Rivera, so Roberts enters the game to pinch run. On the first pitch, Roberts uses his notorious speed to steal second base just barely ahead of the throw. On a 1-1 count, Bill Mueller laces a single to center field to score Roberts and tie the game against the unshakeable Mariano Rivera. Many Bostonians to this day credit Roberts’ steal as the spark plug for that ninth-inning rally. The rest is history—the Red Sox would stun the Yankees, coming back from 3-0 down to win the series and promptly sweep the Cardinals to win the World Series, effectively ending Babe Ruth’s curse.
After the season, the Red Sox shipped Roberts to the San Diego Padres in exchange for David Pauley, Ramon Vazquez and Jay Payton. His two years in San Diego were arguably the best of his career, as Roberts hit .285 – his highest batting average with any team he played for – with 10 home runs and 82 RBI. He would also steal 72 bases while only getting caught 18 times. He would make two consecutive playoff appearances with the Padres, but never got out of the NLDS.
Roberts signed with the rival San Francisco Giants after the 2006 season. Unlike with the Padres, Roberts struggled while donning the black and orange. In 2007, he hit .260, which was a full .033 lower than the season before. His steals also dropped by 18, from 49 to 31. His role was reduced greatly the next season, as he only played in 52 games while hitting a mere .224 with nine RBI and just five steals. The Giants released him prior to the 2009 season and that would prove to be the end of Dave Roberts’ career.
If it weren’t for this utility outfielder who the Indians only suited up for 75 games over three years, would the Red Sox have broken the Curse of the Bambino? The debate rages on.