Rumor has it that there was a baseball season in 2012, and that the Red Sox played in it. Bobby Valentine may have showed up, and a minor league team could have played on Fenway Park’s hallowed grass in August.
You’ll need your best Nancy Drew skills and reporter’s notebook to get anyone to admit those facts around the Fens these days, though. The Red Sox are playing with all the calm and consistency of a well-rested napper who has rolled out of bed, seen the sunshine and decided he never, ever needs to go back into that dark, disjointed land of bad dreams.
This year, the Red Sox have done everything necessary to scrub the dreck of 2012 off their uniforms, home turf and psyches. They are a new team, of both parts and posture, and they’ve done much less rebounding than completely restarting — to great results — this season.
If any one final piece of evidence was needed to prove last year was a mirage and that this is a Red Sox team of old (“old” being those glory years of 2004 to 2010, that is), it came Wednesday morning. Dustin Pedroia, who is playing his most MVP-like ball since he won the award in 2008, admitted that he has played this entire season with a torn ligament in his thumb.
It bears pausing and considering the information. Pedroia has had a ligament ripped in his left thumb — that’s the one that holds the glove — all season. He hurt it in the ninth inning of an 8-2 win over the Yankees on Opening Day, and it comes in addition to the hyperextension and other mistreatment his right thumb absorbed last season.
With his thumbs all but hanging off, Pedroia has put up what some are calling a Golden Glove season at second base. He’s also reinvented the Laser Show for those who may have seen only the partial version in recent years, batting .332 with a .422 on-base percentage and .444 slugging percentage. He has just three home runs and 28 RBIs so far, but his 68 hits project for his second-highest hit total ever (after 2008’s 213), as do his RBIs (after 2011’s 91).
Pedroia has played every single game, the only member of his team to do so, with his 53 games played the most of any Major League Baseball player. He has the ninth-highest batting average in the league, the fifth-highest on-base percentage and is eighth in runs scored.
That doesn’t even get into the other fun categories, such as wins above replacement. His 3.0 WAR puts him seventh among major leaguers, and third among position players. His defensive WAR is 10th-best among all comers.
So, Pedroia is playing some of his best baseball ever, and he’s done it for a third of a season while dealing with pain that would incapacitate many others.
Why is this surprising? This is Pedroia, right? The second baseman of lore, the dirt magnet who anchors magical Sox crews, the oft-named heart and soul of a team that soars on heart and soul — why is it surprising, and why does it matter that he’s been playing hurt as the team does well?
Fifty-three games in, the Red Sox look safe and sound. Even if they go on another slide or two, they are performing well enough and are talented enough throughout to prove that this is the team that others will have to face moving forward, not that rendition that showed up for games last year.
But this team didn’t magically come together. It was built, painstakingly, by general manager Ben Cherington starting last August, when he cut the cord on several faulty pieces. It was cleaned out, with great effort, over the offseason as new manager John Farrell arrived, and new players were brought in, one by one, who fit what the Red Sox want to be moving forward. It was primed for performance, a day at a time, in the spring as new players mixed with the old and discipline turned into success.
Pedroia was there at every step. He was teaching Jose Iglesias fine points of hitting in his down time, and he was at spring training right from the beginning, buying into the program. Most importantly, he was there not only for Opening Day but also for the 52 games afterward, thumb or not. He kept playing and kept leading — and, somehow, kept hitting and kept dominating — even when the times were tough.
This is who Pedroia has always posited himself to be, and who others had hoped him to be, no matter what other winds blew the Red Sox’ raggedy ranks last year. Even Pedroia was pulled into the fray several times last season, caught in the middle of the incriminating stories that incriminated everyone, when it looked like the corruption had taken down even the best of the bunch.
Pedroia insisted then that he wasn’t among the troublemakers and that he wasn’t tearing down the team. He said this team could return to what it was, and that he, too, would restore his reputation as being the team’s captain, talent, and heart and soul.
Now, 53 games since the season of accusations ended, it seems strange that Pedroia could have ever been looped into all that, or that all that could have happened at all.
Strained thumbs, dirty jerseys and a well-above-.300 average are all that remain.
And in that, Pedroia has once again shown why he’s incomparable when it comes to making the Red Sox exactly who they want to be.
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