The Boston Red Sox compensated for the injury to Jackie Bradley Jr. by acquiring the speedy Rajai Davis from the Oakland A’s, a move that is oddly reminiscent of when the team traded for Dave Roberts in 2004.
It is the Roberts who is often cited as the catalyst for Boston coming back from a 3-0 deficit in that year’s ALCS en route to winning its first World Series since 1918.
Davis’ experience will be a nice placeholder until Bradley is ready to come back from his sprained thumb, but his real value could come in the postseason. The Red Sox are playoff bound barring a massive collapse and if Davis is utilized properly, he could be the game-changer come October.
Rajai Davis turns 37 in October but still has the speed of a player one would think is much younger. He has 26 stolen bases this year and has been caught just six times. He’s only batting .233 with a .294 OBP but gets on base enough to currently rank fourth in the AL in steals.
Davis also led the AL with 43 steals last year as a member of the Cleveland Indians though his 2016 will be remembered for hitting a game-tying eighth-inning home run in Game 7 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. His team lost the game and the Series, but Davis can still take solace that Cleveland fans will forever talk about his timely home run.
He thus joins Boston, his seventh MLB team, expecting to fill Bradley’s place in center field and also provide depth in the speed department. Once Bradley is back, Davis will surely a pinch-runner in close games and should also see plenty of time as a fourth outfielder.
It is in this role he can provide the Red Sox with a similar spark to that of 2004.
The Dave Roberts parallel
Before Dave Roberts was the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was an MLB outfielder known for his speed. He became a full-time player with the Dodgers at age 30 in 2002 and swiped 45 bags in 127 games. Roberts was never a superstar, but quickly gained a reputation as someone who could steal bases when it counted.
Boston acquired him for a minor leaguer at the 2004 trade deadline, with the plan being to use him as a situational pinch-runner and sometime outfielder. Roberts only had five steals in 45 games with the Red Sox in the regular season, but his actions in the postseason made up for it.
Boston trailed the New York Yankees 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS that year and were facing elimination. Feared closer Mariano Rivera walked Kevin Millar to open the bottom of the frame and Roberts was sent in to pinch run. After being checked by Rivera three times, and with Bill Mueller at the plate, Roberts finally stole second. Mueller then singled to center and Roberts scored to tie the game, with the Red Sox ultimately winning on a 12th inning home run by David Ortiz.
The rest is history as Boston came all the way back to win the series, and followed it with a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, breaking a championship drought that lasted nearly a century.
Does Davis = Roberts 2.0?
Not that Rajai Davis will definitely play the same role that Dave Roberts did in a Boston uniform and thus lead the team to a championship, but it’s hard to look at the two and not at least see the similarities.
Davis was acquired to provide more outfield depth along with speed whereas Roberts was acquired solely as a role player. Boston is likely making the playoffs as either a Wild Card team or the AL East champion this year and speed will be needed in close games.
Davis’ postseason experience last year means he could see time as a starter, but that won’t be needed barring another injury to Bradley or one of Boston’s other starters. Come October, if he is still with the team, he will be there to steal bases.
Given how important speed factored into Boston’s return to championship glory, there shouldn’t be any shame in playing such a role. If Davis’ legs can be the spark that gets Boston another World Series trophy, nobody from him to upper management will complain.
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