MALDEN — The 2018 Red Sox division title banner went missing for about 48 hours this week, before it could even be hoisted at Fenway.
In a puzzling sequence of events, a 44-year-old Malden man says he found the precious banner on McGrath Highway in Somerville Monday. At first, he suggested he wanted something in return — tickets to a game would be nice — but brought it to Fenway Park Wednesday afternoon when the story started to get a little suspicious.
The Sox confirmed shortly before 4 p.m. that the banner, which they plan to unveil outside Fenway if they clinch the American League East crown, as expected, was in their possession. A team spokeswoman said the people who returned it received nothing in exchange.
Earlier in the day, Louie Iacuzzi, the Malden resident who had the banner for more than 48 hours before giving it up, hoped for a different outcome — even as he came under increasing scrutiny.
In a telephone interview and a second conversation outside his home in the morning, he provided an account of finding the banner on McGrath Highway that sounded as stunning as the Sox 2004 comeback against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
According to Iacuzzi, he was driving with friends on the busy road around 7 a.m. Monday when they spotted an object that was forcing cars to swerve.
“I noticed a couple cars swinging, like moving to the right, and we seen something in the street,” Iacuzzi said. “So I ran across the highway to grab it. We brought it in the car; we had no idea what it was.”
They soon discovered, after removing some wrapping, that it was the 2018 American League East championship banner, Iacuzzi said.
He initially said Wednesday that he and his pals wanted to give the banner to the Sox — but they weren’t going to serve it up like a batting-practice fastball.
“[W]e’re trying to do the right thing, but I’m not just going to hand it to them, know what I mean?” Iacuzzi said.
His friend, James Amaral, noted, “We’re working, too. I mean, my man had to run across three lanes of traffic.” He also issued an ultimatum to the hometown team.
“If they do try to put a duplicate up, you best believe we’re going to show up and say, ‘That’s not the original,’ ” Amaral said. “We’re hoping they do the right thing. You know, we did the right thing. We could have kept it, we could have put it on eBay. You know, we got connections where we could have reached out to other sources.”
Asked whether they wanted cash from the Red Sox, Iacuzzi at first said, “Yes, financial [compensation], maybe some tickets, we want something. We don’t know what we want. We want to return it, 100 percent, but we would like to get something.”
He said didn’t have a specific asking price in mind Wednesday morning.
“We want to find out what the thing’s worth,” he said. “We don’t know.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the chances of a payout or box seats at Fenway appeared to be as remote as former Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval stealing home.
“We already have a new banner made,” said Tony Lafuente, a former Somerville alderman who owns Flagraphics, the company that made the banner.
He said he wasn’t sure if the original banner “fell off the truck, or if it walked off the truck. . . . I’ve been doing work for the Boston Red Sox since 1992. Nothing ever happened like this.”
Later in the interview, Lafuente said flatly that “these guys stole my banner” and “should be ashamed of themselves. This is not Boston.” He did, however, concede that his drivers sometimes use McGrath Highway during normal business hours.
The theft allegation did not sit well with Iacuzzi, who said in a third interview that “they lost the [expletive], they’re the ones that [expletive] up. I found it, I’m trying to do the right thing.”
Iacuzzi described himself as a good Samaritan.
“If I didn’t pick it up, a hundred people would have ran over it,” he said. “I don’t want a million dollars. I don’t need a million dollars. All I wanted was to maybe bring my family, my friends to a [expletive] baseball game, maybe meet a player. . . . The flag is back home with the Boston Red Sox.”
As the unlikely tale began circulating on local media, Iacuzzi lamented his newfound notoriety.
“I want to tell you guys something: I found the flag,” Iacuzzi said. “I was never looking for money or fame or anything. I wanted to return it ever since I seen it.”
Emily Zendt and Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.