“Down season” has never been in Dustin Pedroia’s vocabulary at the major-league level.
He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the MVP the season after that. At 28, he’s already a three-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner.
Whenever Pedroia has been healthy, he has performed.
Right now, he’s not completely healthy. The torn abductor muscle in his thumb kept him sidelined for a week earlier this season and forced him to leave another recent game early.
And that down season that Pedroia has never known the meaning of is a real possibility. He’s currently on pace for career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
The last time an injury nagged at Pedroia throughout a season was 2010, when a broken foot forced him to miss most of the second half. It was also the last time the Boston Red Sox found themselves out of postseason contention for the stretch run.
Needless to say, there’s concern around the Red Sox of history repeating itself in 2012, particularly with a litany of other key players shelved.
However, even if Pedroia can’t match or come close to the .307 batting average, 21 home runs and 91 RBI he had from a year ago, Boston can still contend. It just needs the Muddy Chicken to persevere—and to have that perseverance rub off on his teammates.
NESN.com’s Luke Hughes put it best in his June 26 column, posted shortly after Pedey’s go-ahead two-run single propelled the Sox to a 5–1 win: “Strength. That is what Pedroia has always been for his Boston teammates. He always seems to undertake the role of leader both on and off the field for the Sox, and his strength and passion are what constantly seems to propel the team forward.”
I’ve alluded several times to Pedroia’s child-like enthusiasm for the game, as discussed in Tom Verducci’s cover story for the Aug. 15, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated. It literally pains him to not be at the ballpark, and when he is he needs to be playing.
In a season marked by alleged clubhouse discord, the team needs someone like Pedroia to steer it in a sunnier direction. And Pedroia could be on his way to rendering this worst-case scenario moot. In Boston’s past five games, he’s gone 8-for-19 (.421) with two doubles and five RBI, raising his batting average 10 points to .270.
Even if he doesn’t perform up to his MVP-caliber expectations, the Laser Show can carry the team on his back by showing he’s in it for the long haul, through thick and thin.
A down season will never sap a Muddy Chicken of his childlike love for the game, or its ability to pick up everyone around him.