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Thank You, Dustin Pedroia

Red Sox fans have known this day was coming for years, but it is now official; Dustin Pedroia’s playing career is over. It was announced on Monday that the former MVP would be retiring from professional baseball. While not a surprise, the news certainly served as a blow to the collective morale of Red Sox fans. It marks the end of an era in Boston. For 14 years, Dustin Pedroia has been the face of this franchise (although he certainly shared that title with David Ortiz). He had a fantastic career and seemed destined to wind up in Cooperstown by the time all was said and done. That dream may still become a reality, but it certainly became less likely when his career was derailed by injury.

On April 21, 2017, the Red Sox were in Baltimore for an afternoon matchup with the Orioles. In the 8th inning, Mark Trumbo grounded a ball to shortstop. Pedroia, covering the second base bag, received the throw just before Manny Machado slid into the bag, spikes up. The collision resulted in Pedroia being removed from the game. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was from this collision that Pedroia’s health would never fully recover.

For the next four seasons, Pedroia did everything he could to get back on the field. He would grind through his recovery, get back on the field briefly, only to suffer another setback. Although it seemed like the baseball gods were simply against him, each time he got knocked down, he would always get back up. That’s the only way he knew how to do things. He never gave anything less than 110%. He’s played with a chip on his shoulder ever since he was in little league. However, some things cannot be overcome by sheer willpower, as Pedroia managed to see the field for just 9 games between 2018 and 2019, and didn’t play at all in 2020. It was difficult to watch this part of his career – watching your hero fail always is.

Pedroia’s career goes far beyond his numbers. To simply look at his statistics is not an adequate way of remembering his tenure in Boston. Instead, I picked out three different plays, as well as the stories behind them, that I feel truly embody what Pedroia did between the lines, and what he meant to the Red Sox and the city of Boston.

We start our journey in October of 2007, where the 24 year old Pedroia had just wrapped up a phenomenal rookie season. It would be enough to earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors in a few weeks’ time. The Red Sox are in the World Series against the hottest team in baseball, the Colorado Rockies. Boston made quick work of them in games 1 and 2 in Fenway and had now made their way to Denver for game 3. Dustin arrived at Coors Field and walked up to the players’ entrance to get into the visitors’ clubhouse to begin preparing for that night’s game. However, the security guard at the door wasn’t letting him through. He didn’t believe that this kid standing in front of him was a professional athlete. He looked like some kid trying to get in and meet his favorite players. Pedroia explained who he was to the guard, but he wasn’t having any of it. How could this kid be a big leaguer? Given Pedroia’s stature, it might seem like a reasonable assumption, but this mistake made one thing very clear. That guard hadn’t watched the previous two games in Boston. If he had, he certainly would have known who Dustin Pedroia was.

In the top of the first of Game 1, Josh Beckett made quick work of the Rockies, striking out the side in order. Pedroia stepped into the box to lead off the bottom half against Colorado starter Jeff Francis. Pedroia took an 0-1 pitch and deposited it into the first row of the Green Monster for a home run. Fenway was sent into a frenzy, as Pedroia catapulted himself into stardom. Luckily for Red Sox fans, this was just the beginning.

We now fast forward to Pedroia’s next World Series, 2013. The Red Sox are in St. Louis for Game 3. The series and game are both tied, as the Cardinals prepare to take their at-bats in the bottom of the 9th. They’ll be looking to drive in the winning run off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. Uehara had been lights out all season, but the Cardinals battled and managed to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with just one out. Then, Jon Jay dribbled the 0-1 pitch from Koji just to the right of the mound. With the infield in, it looked like it might sneak through to give the Cardinals the win. However, the Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia. And Dustin Pedroia did not want to lose this game. He sprawled to his right, stabbing the ball with his glove. He stood, turned, and fired home to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in time to tag out the sliding Yadier Molina at the plate. Saltalamacchia then fired the ball to third to try and catch Allen Craig sliding in for what would have been an inning-ending double play. However, his throw sailed past the diving Will Middlebrooks, and as Middlebrooks tried to get up, Craig tripped over his legs. Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately signaled obstruction, meaning Craig was awarded home plate, and the game was over. The amazing diving play meant nothing. Pedroia saved the game just for it to be lost a few seconds later. 

Finally, we take a look at a play from an early July game in Texas against the Rangers in 2017. The Red Sox entered the 9th inning up 5-4. Closer Craig Kimbrel came in from the bullpen looking to rack up another save. However, former Pedroia teammate Mike Napoli launched the first pitch from Kimbrel over the left-field wall for a solo home run to tie the game. The next batter, Carlos Gomez, hit a dribbler to third baseman Deven Marrero. Marrero charged in and threw the ball wide of first base, but the play wasn’t over yet. As soon as the ball was hit, Pedroia began moving to back up first base. Because of this, he was in a perfect position to dive and field the ball as it bounced off of the hard brick wall at the border of the field in foul territory. From his stomach, he threw to Mitch Moreland at first, who applied the tag to retire Gomez.

I can’t think of anyone who works harder or loves the game more than Dustin Pedroia. He was always the first one dressed for games. He said he did this because you never know if that game might be your last. When he was playing at Arizona State he forfeited his scholarship money so that a teammate who needed the help more than he did could have it. He managed to walk more than he struck out in 2017 while playing on essentially one leg. In his 7,029 career trips to the plate (postseason included) he struck out looking on three straight pitches just three times. Of those 9 pitches, 4 were out of the strike zone (stat courtesy of @theaceofspaeder). He battled back to play in 2018 and 2019 when doctors told him there was zero chance he could play again. There are countless stories and stats that speak to the type of person and player that Pedroia is. We will never get to watch someone just like him play again. He was truly one of a kind.

During his retirement press conference, Pedroia was asked what he wants Red Sox fans to remember most about him. He said that he hopes he “played the game the right way.” There is no doubt that he did just that. So to Laser Show, to Muddy Chicken, to my dad’s favorite baseball player, thank you.

Matt O'Halloran

CS Student at UMass Lowell; Analytics for UML Baseball; Twitter: @matto20

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