Dustin Pedroia

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Tomase: Was this it for Dustin Pedroia as we know him? Thoughts on a trying season

John Tomase
October 09, 2017 - 9:31 pm
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The 2017 Red Sox season ended with Dustin Pedroia trudging to a stop 20 feet short of first base while the Astros erupted in celebration. In many ways, it was fitting.

Pedroia had just grounded out to punch Houston's ticket to the American League Championship Series. The at-bat came seven innings after he got manager John Farrell ejected while arguing a borderline strike call, 14 weeks after he failed to stop David Price from embarrassing Hall of Fame broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane, and five months after he selfishly declared, "it's not me, it's them," for all the world to see against the brawling Orioles.

To say it was a regrettable, forgettable season for Pedroia would be an understatement. Long considered a heart-and-soul player, he saw his standing as a leader take hit after hit, much of it self-inflicted. The once loquacious Laser Show came off as sullen, perhaps worn down by years in a spotlight he has never sought.

On the field, he struggled with a chronically bad knee that leaves him facing a series of unsavory options this winter. He intimated that surgery might end his 2018 before it begins. But can a 34-year-old signed through 2021 survive a full year that unfolds like the last month, when he needed constant maintenance just to limp to the finish?

"I'm going to go talk to the doctors about that," Pedroia said. "Obviously we had to try and find a way to do what we did so I could be out there. But if you were to get it fixed, the recovery is a long time, so I have a lot of things to weigh in with the doctors and figure it out."

Pedroia has never appeared entirely comfortable with Boston's baseline levels of negativity. He consistently faces the cameras because he knows it's part of his job description, but he has generally been a reluctant spokesman, radiating the vibe that he'd rather be anywhere else.

Comcast exposed that side in May when it caught him squirming out of an uncomfortable interview with a petulant, "Can I go home?"

It was just one in a series of bad looks for Pedroia, from the way he threw his organization under the bus when his teammates were throwing at Manny Machado, to his failure to act when Price had made it clear that he planned to ambush Eckersley, to his defiant declaration that, "People say from the outside we don't have a leader. I'm standing right here," which felt belatedly forced after the Eck affair had proven stubbornly resilient.

It continued right through Monday's season-ending 5-4 loss when Pedroia took exception to a borderline strike three call with the bases loaded in the second. He unloaded on home plate umpire Mark Wegner and refused to yield even after Farrell had sprinted to protect him. Eventually, Pedroia's refusal to stand down led to Farrell's ejection.

"I was pretty emotional," Pedroia admitted, leaving unsaid that a veteran should know better.

But such was life for Pedroia this season. His off-field issues only magnified his struggles to stay in the lineup. His left knee bothered him all year, leading president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to make the rather shocking admission that Pedroia will need to deal with it for the rest of his career. "He has a bad knee," Dombrowski said blithely.

Said knee limited Pedroia to 105 games and took a noticeable toll down the stretch. When Pedroia was thrown out at third to end an inning earlier in the ALDS, the focus was on whether Mitch Moreland had crossed the plate in time for the run to count. The real issue, though, was that Pedroia couldn't move. His knee frequently looked unstable in the field as well.

Pedroia has proven time and again that he's a tough SOB, but at some point the toll becomes too great. He only played six complete games after Sept. 1, batting .242 down the stretch and frequently departing in the late innings.

He followed with another poor postseason, batting .125 (2-for-16) with a pair of singles. His last good playoff series came in the 2008 ALCS against the Rays, when the league MVP batted .346 with three homers. In 26 games since, Pedroia is hitting .204 with zero homers.

His six-year, $85 million extension kicked in this season, and it's hard to imagine Pedroia finishing it. In fact, as trying as 2017 may have been, here's the ominous question he and the team must ask:

What's to say next year won't be worse?

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