ARLINGTON, Texas — No one in the World Series is under more pressure than Dave Roberts. The only acceptable outcome for him is to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers to a championship.
The Dodgers had a chance in 2017 and fell to the nefarious Houston Astros. They returned in 2018 and lost again to the steamroller Red Sox.
The Washington Nationals upset the 106-win Dodgers in the Division Series last season, bringing more heat on Roberts. But the team was quick to say he would return.
If the gilded Dodgers can’t beat the Tampa Bay Rays this year, Roberts may not get another chance. The Dodgers are so loaded with talent that the blame will fall on the manager, fairly or not.
Roberts understands October tension. He was 90 feet from second base in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series 16 years ago.
Had Jorge Posada’s throw been a few more inches to the right, maybe Derek Jeter would have had time to slap the tag down. But Roberts got his left hand on the bag first and umpire Joe West called him safe.
You know what that stolen base led to.
Roberts played only 45 games for the Sox — 5 percent of his career — and never had an at-bat in the playoffs. He was traded to San Diego after the season.
That once slice of time, that slide into second, became his legacy.
“There’s very few situations in life that everything that you sort of equate to a certain moment in time — or a team or an organization or anything — that it’s all positive,” Roberts said before Game 1 of the Series on Tuesday. "And it kind of takes over a lot of your memory space.
“My time with the Red Sox was unbelievable. I still have very close friends there. So it certainly does feel like a bigger part of my career.”
The Red Sox invited eight members of the 2004 team to throw out first pitches before Game 2 of the 2018 Series at Fenway Park. Roberts intended to stay in the dugout but jogged out to hug his former teammates and received a loud cheer from the crowd as he tipped his cap.
Roberts, who lives full time in southern California, doesn’t go too many days without a Red Sox fan stopping him to ask for an autograph or to thank him for his role in making that 2004 championship possible.
“All the time. All the time. And it’s just the biggest compliment that I could get from Red Sox Nation,” Roberts said.
Roberts has indirectly influenced the Red Sox since. He was 43 when the Dodgers hired him as manager before the 2016 season. His only managerial experience at the time was one game as an interim manager of the San Diego Padres the previous season.
Roberts’s success with the Dodgers opened the door for Alex Cora, Rocco Baldelli, Aaron Boone, David Ross, and others to become managers without prior experience.
As the Red Sox again seek a manager, Roberts is a model in the sense that he communicates expectations to the players and works well with the front-office staff to incorporate data into his decisions during games.
Much was made during this year’s ALCS about Tampa Bay’s low-budget creativity. But the Dodgers are as process-driven as the Rays.
Roberts built a lineup for Game 1 alternating righthanded and lefthanded hitters. That left a bench with two righthanded hitters and two lefthanded hitters. The hope was to negate Tampa Bay’s bullpen depth.
“Those guys over there, they play a lot of matchups, so to play the matchup game with them and counter is beneficial,” Roberts said. “And you can see that by their position-player depth as far as their roster construction. Certainly having the guys that we have that hit left and right, it’s pretty nice.”
The Dodgers were 4-8 in their first two World Series under Roberts. Adding Mookie Betts, they hope, will help change that. But it’s also a question of preparation.
“We’re ready for this moment,” said Roberts, who knows how that feels.