ST. LOUIS — Quintin Berry was watching when Dave Roberts ran right into Red Sox lore in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. He had no idea that Roberts was also blazing Berry’s path to the 2013 World Series.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, man, he stole it.’ It was close. It was close. I remember watching it,” recalled Berry, the Red Sox’ current designated stealer.
It is known simply as “The Steal” among Sox faithful, Roberts’s ninth-inning swipe of second against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada with the Red Sox trailing, 4-3, and three games to none in the 2004 ALCS. Roberts’s steps were the first on the path to breaking an 86-year championship drought in historic fashion.
For years the Red Sox were a speed agnostic team waiting on the three-run homer and going station to station like a Red Line train, but Roberts’s role in 2004 showed that speed can be a fate-altering force.
The 28-year-old Berry is waiting in the wings if the Red Sox need such base-running heroics in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Sox acquired Berry in a non-waiver deal with the Kansas City Royals Aug. 27 to give their bench a dash of speed.
“When my agent called me, he said they were looking for a ‘Dave Roberts-type guy’ who could come off the bench and kind of help them if they needed it in a big game,” said Berry. “That to me just lets me know that even though he had no idea he would help someone out nearly 10 years down the road, he did. He gave me another shot, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
Have speed, will travel is the story of Berry’s nomadic career. The Sox are his seventh organization in seven years. He was playing for the Royals’ Triple A affiliate when he got traded to Boston.
The stolen base has lost some value in baseball because it’s shunned by the sabermetric crowd, but it still can be a heart-racing, game-changing play. Few are better at it than Quintin the Quick.
As a major leaguer he has never been caught, a perfect 29 for 29, including the postseason.
Berry entered in the eighth inning of the Red Sox’ 4-2 victory in Game 4 Sunday night as a pinch runner for David Ortiz and swiped the Red Sox’ first base of the series.
The Runnin’ Red Sox stole 123 bases during the regular season, led by league leader Jacoby Ellsbury (52), and they led the majors with an 86.6 percent success rate. But no one had tested Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who had ground the Red Sox’ running game to a halt, before Berry.
Being a stolen base specialist means that every time you come into the game, everyone from the opposing catcher to the stadium ushers knows you’re going. Berry, who has three stolen bases in three games this postseason, said that there is a rush to going 90 feet in a rush with everyone expecting it.
“I love it,” Berry said. “I love that people know that I’m trying to go. I love it when they’re [throwing] over because they’re trying to stop me from going, and there is nothing they can do.
“That’s why I want everybody to know when I get on base that I’m going to try to steal. So, if they let out a little bit, I’m out. I love that feeling. There is no better feeling in the world, especially when you don’t play every day. You know you’re making an impact, so that is huge for me.”
Berry actually has some common ground with Roberts.
Berry is from San Diego and attended San Diego State before being picked by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. Roberts went to high school in Vista, Calif., in northwestern San Diego County. He played for the San Diego Padres and is now the Padres first base coach. Both come from biracial backgrounds.
Berry’s role with the Red Sox might seem like a bit part — after Game 5 of the World Series Monday night he has zero at-bats this postseason — but a small role can become a big one in a hurry in October.
Berry puts a lot of time into his craft. He watches video, studies scouting reports, and makes his own observations. It’s a tougher task against a less familiar opponent, such as the Cardinals. Berry said that ultimately a base stealer has to trust his instincts.
“You can feel it when you got a good jump or you got something going,” said Berry. “You can tell when the [pitcher’s] momentum is shifting so you can get a good jump and steal a bag.”
This stage isn’t new to Berry.
He was part of the Detroit club that got swept by the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series. He appeared in all four games of the series, and was hitless in eight at-bats. He didn’t attempt a stolen base.
The glory of Berry’s role is epitomized by Roberts. But coming into a playoff game to pinch run isn’t without treachery.
Just ask Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong. He was picked off first base by Koji Uehara with the tying run at the plate to end Game 4.
“In that situation, it feels like you want to throw up,” said Berry.
Base stealers can be hard to catch, so Berry had never caught up with Roberts about stealing until this year.
They met when Roberts threw out the first pitch at Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
“I got to talk to him and tell him how much I appreciate him because he got me a job here,” said Berry. “If it wouldn’t have been for what he did in 2004, I would have never gotten this opportunity.”
Berry has gotten the opportunity and he’ll run with it.