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Sports Then and Now

One More Miracle Needed for RSN Favorite

Posted on May 04, 2010 by Don Spieles
San Francisco Giants Photo Day

Dave Roberts announced on Monday that he has Hodgkin's Lymphoma

If you ask a Red Sox fan who Henri Stanley is, most will look at you funny, their heads cocked to the side like the RCA dog, and tell you they don’t have a clue.  Stanley was an outfielder who never played a Major League game, but exists as a footnote in the historic 2004 season that saw the Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.  Henri Stanley went from the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox to AAA Portland, the Dodger’s affiliate, in a trade deadline move, July 31, 2004.  The player the Red Sox got in return was Dave Roberts.

Roberts himself a journeyman with no aspirations of ever having a bust in the Hall of Fame, spent his ten year career playing for five different teams, patrolling various outfield spots and occasionally DH-ing.  He was brought to Boston that year predominantly to be a pinch runner.  In 45 regular season games with the Red Sox that summer, Roberts stole a grand total of five bases.  In the post-season, with zero at-bats, Roberts managed to steal one base – a close play at second that no Boston fan will ever forget.

It was game four of the ALCS.  The Red Sox were literally on the brink of elimination at the hands of their arch rivals, the Yankees.  Down three games to none, and knowing that no team in history had ever come back from such a deficit, the Sox pulled Keven Millar off first in favor of Roberts as the pinch runner.  It was the bottom of the ninth and the Red Sox were losing 4-3.

With the Yankees virtuoso reliever, Mariano Rivera, doing the pitching, the Red Sox knew they needed a minor miracle (or, actually, several of them.) It was Roberts who would provide.  On as close a play as you will ever see, Roberts outstretched hand touched second base while Derek Jeter’s glove still had roughly an inch to go to tag him out.  The throw from Jorge Posada had been perfect, but Roberts was just a very little bit better on that particular play.  The next batter, Bill Mueller, singled and Roberts scored from second – the game was tied. No more runs scored that inning – no steal by Roberts and the Red Sox would have gone home that night to wait for Spring.

Most folks know the rest.  The game stayed tied until a walk-off home run by David Ortiz (his second in that post-season) in the 12th inning.  The next night, Ortiz would hit a walk-off single in the 14th inning to send the series back to New York.  Boston took games six and seven in nine innings each to cap the most improbable of comebacks, a string of little miracles that began with the inch and a half advantage the Dave Roberts achieved on his lone steal of the post season.

Roberts was traded to San Diego that following December, finishing his career with a couple of season there and a couple more in San Francisco.  Although his time in Boston was very brief, his impact was large, and so it was with great concern that Boston fans across the planet absorbed the sobering news – Dave Roberts has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

A form of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma originates from white blood cells and is characterized by its orderly progression from one lymph node group to the next.  The good news is that the survival rate is roughly 90% for this disease, so there is good reason to be positive.

While the likeness of Dave Roberts will never reside next to those of Fisk, or Williams, or Yastrzemski in Cooperstown, there is a good chance that his name will pop-up in a lot of the same conversations.  So it goes that the hopes and prayers of a very grateful Red Sox Nation all go out to Dave Roberts and his family as he mounts his battle.  Perhaps the collective will of all the fans he thrilled that night in October of 2004 can instigate one more minor miracle – an honest thank you for the one he gave them.

Don Spieles covers Major League Baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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