2004 ALCS: Dave Roberts and the Most Significant Stolen Base in MLB History

Rickey Henderson (1436), Lou Brock (938), Billy Hamilton (912), Ty Cobb (892), Tim Raines (808) – these are the top five leaders of all time in career Major League stolen bases. Every one of these players and more could steal a base successfully even when the opposition knew he would run. They get all of the accolades in regards to speed and overall base running ability.

Few of the all-time MLB speedsters, though, had that single stolen base that all baseball fans remember when asked about. Henderson’s single-season and career record-breakers and speech that followed do come to mind, but they did not have the impact of extreme significance. Baseball fans constantly talk about the greatest home runs or pitching performances they ever saw. Not many discuss stolen bases, especially in a time in which the long ball gets all of the press and glory.

Jackie Robinson, 1955, #2

The legendary Jackie Robinson stole 197 bases in his far-too-short ten-year career. Robinson was a dynamic player in many regards: speed, average, power, and defense. He twice led the league in steals, but he had that one classic stolen base in 1955 that we still talk about today.

In Game 1 of the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, Robinson was on third with Whitey Ford pitching in the top of the eighth. Down 6-4, Robinson stole home in a very close and controversial call, pulling the Dodgers to within a run. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra still argues the call, but I believe he was safe. The video shows the play in slow motion and then at full speed.

This stolen base is arguably the most famous in MLB history, but it is still not the most significant. The Yankees won the game 6-5, but the Dodgers won the World Series, the only time they won in Brooklyn. Robinson’s steal of home did not have an adverse effect on the outcome of the entire series.

Dave Roberts, 2004, #1

Only slightly less talked-about but far more significant, a steal of second base captures the crown. As a Major League Baseball fan in general, I am happy to have seen it live. The extraordinary rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox has too many incidents to discuss in detail. This moment, though, changed Boston’s entire history.

It was the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Yankees led the series 3-0. They also led 4-3 in Game 4 with the game’s best-ever closer, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. Boston’s Kevin Millar drew a lead-off walk, putting the potential tying run on base. Then, the most-anticipated move happened: Dave Roberts pinch ran.

Roberts spent most of 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He stole 33 bases before the Red Sox picked him up at the trade deadline – for just this situation. Roberts was a speed demon and a successful base stealer. Everyone in the game and watching knew what Roberts would do. Rivera delivered; Roberts ran. If he were unsuccessful, the Yankees would win the ALCS over Boston for the second straight year and third straight postseason meeting between the two (1999). The video shows that Roberts beat the throw on a close play, but he was clearly safe. What followed became legendary.

Roberts scored the tying run on a Bill Mueller single. The game went 12 innings before Boston’s David Ortiz homered to win it for the Red Sox. Boston then swept the next three games to win the ALCS and advance to the World Series. This was the first time in MLB history that a team trailing 3-0 in games came back to win a best-of-seven postseason series of any kind. Finally, Boston swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

Breaking the Babe Ruth Curse

Any World Series win is extremely significant. However, the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series championship ended a run of 86 years between championships after their 1918 win. It also ended the so-called Babe Ruth Curse that lingered one full year longer after Aaron Boone‘s 2003 ALCS-winning walk-off home run deflated all of Boston once again. The Red Sox sold the Babe to the Yankees after the 1919 season, and legend said that the Red Sox would be cursed to never again win another World Series. For the Red Sox, this was sweet revenge.

The Red Sox and Yankees will never meet in the World Series barring a drastic and unheard-of move of one team to the National League. However, the Red Sox did the next best thing by beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS en route to breaking the curse.

Dave Roberts stole 243 bases over ten years, ranking him #241 on the all-time list. He stole just two postseason bases. His first of those two, the 2004 ALCS steal, sparked a rally that led to eight straight postseason wins for the Boston Red Sox and their World Series championship in 86 years. Who knew at that moment that Roberts would steal the most significant base in Major League history?

Additional Sources:

Baseball Almanac, Career Leaders for Stolen Bases, baseball-almanac.com.

Baseball Reference, 1955 World Series Game 1 and 2004 ALCS Game 4, baseball-reference.com.

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