ANAHEIM, Calif. – On a routine afternoon in a season that was going nowhere even before management made it boldly and darkly official, Dustin Pedroia gnawed on his lower lip and got after another day.
No matter the color of flag over his season – last year’s was red with “World Champions” on it; this year’s is plain white – Pedroia honors them equally. This season inches toward nothing, toward what they call, “seeing what the kids can do,” toward a fairly significant remodel, and still Pedroia sweats every inch. Hours before the Boston Red Sox will play a game that matters only to the Los Angeles Angels, Pedroia concentrated on threading the needle, filling the holes, pulling it all as taut as it can be, tying off the loose ends.
He was re-lacing his glove.
Done, he gathered the leather strings he’d snipped, the awl he’d used, and packed them neatly into a pouch. He examined the tan glove, popped it a couple times with his free hand, tested the knots. The glove appeared new, maybe like everything else around here being prepped for 2015.
Look around. Who are these guys? What happened here? Now what?
Pedroia shook his head. He didn’t want to talk.
“I gotta buncha stuff,” he explained.
A week-and-a-half before, general manager Ben Cherington had done the merciful thing and run a stake through 2014. Jon Lester and John Lackey were traded. So were Jake Peavy, Andrew Miller, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and Felix Doubront. Cherington and his lieutenants were rightly lauded for their measured assessment of what the season had become, their definitive actions to sacrifice the remainder of this summer for the good of next summer.
And yet, here, 3,000 miles from Boston and eight months from next season, there is a game to play. There’ll be another tomorrow, then the next day. The men who wander the clubhouse were, just a year ago, preparing to win a World Series. Today, they carry the same record as the Minnesota Twins, and find themselves equally as relevant.
The organization had made the commitment to give up on the summer. Out here, the men left behind can submit to no such thing. Yes, they had played poorly enough for four months to earn it. That doesn’t make this any easier. There will be no season-saving winning streak. There will be no surprise and dramatic run toward a playoff spot, two weeks that breathe life into fall and Fenway Park. No, the Red Sox are done, they know it, everyone knows it, and what’s left is to someday have it end.
But not yet, and that’s what I wanted to ask Pedroia about, except he had, you know, stuff.
“We’re just not here to collect numbers and paychecks,” David Ortiz told Boston reporters before arriving in Anaheim. “We’re here to win like we did last year. That’s when baseball is fun. It’s tough for a guy like Pedroia not to be able to play for something. That’s what we do. That’s why it’s been such a great career here in Boston, because we always won something or were fighting for the playoffs. We’re not fighting for that now.”
They fight instead for a little dignity. For a few starts from Allen Webster. For Xander Bogaerts as a shortstop, Will Middlebrooks as a third baseman; Jackie Bradley Jr. in the batter’s box. Young pitchers come along. They’ll get their innings. Back home, Cherington and the fellas scheme for winter and spring.
They are 3-5 since the season ended. Webster beat the Angels on Friday night. Rubby De La Rosa was more than presentable Sunday. Middlebrooks is batting .182 since the season ended. Bogaerts .097. Bradley .000.
“I don’t think the remaining games are any less important,” manager John Farrell said.
They seek answers. If not answers, at least some insight. Can they rebuild with these guys? Will they be asking for another terrible season with these guys?
“It’s probably more difficult because they’ve experienced World Series here,” Farrell admitted. “This is a pretty substantial shift.”
It’s a helluva thing to have Pedroia, Ortiz and veterans like them play for, especially as there is no guarantee it’ll work. It’s possible Lester (had he signed) and Lackey would have been part of the solution, just as it is possible Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Kelly and Allen Craig will not be. That’s the chance they took, and what the remaining Red Sox have been left with.
“The one thing I love about being [with the] Red Sox is the pressure you gotta bring on a nightly basis,” catcher David Ross said. “The media, the fans, the city expect that. It brings the most out of a team. When it finally is – not ‘over,’ per se – when you’re no longer in the hunt, the pressure is off, I would say. But it turns to getting better. It turns to helping guys.
“I still hate losing. But the losses are a little easier to let go of. Maybe you can sleep that night.”
On Sunday afternoon, a full 10 days since the season ended, Pedroia scrambled to his right, dived and skittered through the dirt. He gloved a ground ball, rose frantically to his feet and threw to first base, ending the seventh inning of a scoreless game. He singled in the eighth inning, pushing a rally and an outcome that to the Red Sox hardly mattered.
They did win. For a day, they were better. The transplants in the stands cheered, “Let’s go Red Sawx,” and the Red Sawx themselves shook hands and moved on to the next place. In the end, what’s better than that?
Oh, a buncha stuff.
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