Let it never be said that Dustin Pedroia just doesn't give a damn.
It's been a brutal season for the Boston Red Sox, but Pedroia has once again been a bright spot. He enters the final day of the regular season hitting a solid .289/.346/.447 with 15 home runs, and he's a .329/.389/.514 hitter since the beginning of August. Not bad for a guy who missed a good portion of the season with injuries.
On Tuesday, Pedroia decided he'd had about enough of missing time due to injuries. It was reported on Monday, by WEEI.com and others, that Boston's star second baseman had suffered a broken left ring finger and that he wouldn't play in either of the team's final two games.
Shutting him down was the logical thing to do, seeing as how, you know, the Red Sox are kind of out of it. Way out of it.
Dustin Pedroia insists he will play tonight with one finger broke and another hurting. "I will change the culture,' he says.— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) October 2, 2012
A sense of purpose, eh? Haven't seen one of those in Boston for a while now.
Did it work?
Technically, no. The Red Sox took a lead into the ninth against the Yankees, but Raul Ibanez spoiled the party with a game-tying two-run homer off Andrew Bailey. He then proceeded to win the game for the Bombers in the bottom of the 12th with a walk-off base hit. The Yanks won the game 4-3, handing Boston its 92nd loss.
But the loss certainly wasn't of Pedroia's making. He did his part by going 2-for-5 with a walk and an RBI. It's one thing to play hurt, but what Pedroia did was play well while playing hurt. That's something decidedly less common.
Pedroia's performance on Tuesday was a real throwback. Not necessarily to the days of yore when players would play through anything—injuries, illness, drunkenness, etc.—but more to the days of Boston's recent history, when the Red Sox had a reputation of being a team of "dirt dogs."
This reputation was alive and well when scrappy players like Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Curt Schilling played central roles in Boston's championship run in 2004. When the 2007 season rolled around, guys like Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jonathan Papelbon had established themselves as part of the new wave of hard-nosed players in Boston.
The dirt-dog days seem like a distant memory now. The Red Sox got more and more expensive in the years following their championship run in 2007, and they got to be more and more like their most hated rivals along the way. As the team's payroll increased, the culture in Boston transmogrified from one of scrappiness to one of entitlement.
Even when the Red Sox were winning games in 2011, they did so with an air of indifference. They were winning games because they were supposed to be winning games, not because they actually wanted to.
When Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe unleashed his now-infamous report on the 2011 Red Sox upon the world, it became clear enough that this sense of entitlement was ultimately what cost the Red Sox in the end. Pedroia was singled out as a player who never stopped grinding, but everyone else basically stopped caring.
The hiring of Bobby Valentine this past offseason was more or less designed to curb the indifference of the Red Sox, as he was essentially brought in to light a fire under the team's collective posterior. Instead, he just plain lit fires, and his antics took a toll on the attitude of the team.
Things got bad enough to a point where Red Sox players—Pedroia included—eventually called a meeting with the club's ownership to call for Bobby V's head, an incident that was brought to light by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. A couple weeks after that, the Red Sox waved the white flag on their season by dealing three of their stars to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Not long after that, Valentine responded to a question about the team's mindset by saying, "What difference does it make?" The month of September proceeded to feature several incidents in which it became clear that Valentine was either overwhelmed, totally frustrated, completely indifferent to what was going on or maybe all three mixed together.
So against all odds, Valentine managed to make a very bad situation a lot worse. The Red Sox may have been indifferent in 2011 under Terry Francona, but their indifference eventually took on a "[Bleep] it" flavor this season.
Make no mistake about it. When you look at the Red Sox right now, what you see is a losing team that has accepted that, yes, they are a losing team. What of it? It was hard to go through for a while there, but this is how the cookie has crumbled.
Pedroia, apparently, wants nothing to do with it.
And of course it would be Pedroia. It's been too easy to question the desire of all the players who have worn Red Sox colors over the last two seasons, but there's never been any question about Pedroia's desire. He may not have wanted to play for Valentine, but there was never any point throughout the course of the season when it was obvious that Pedroia had quit altogether.
The fact that he's not quitting now even when he was every excuse to quit speaks volumes about how much he loathes the very notion of quitting. If anything, it's a shame he didn't break his finger a month ago so he would have had more time to make a lasting impression.
Couple the fact that there is so little time left in the season with the fact that many of the guys Pedroia is suiting up with these days won't be back next season, and it's clear that you have to take his attempt at changing the culture of the Red Sox for what it's worth. He's not so much rallying the troops as he is proving a point.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that the point Pedroia is trying to prove is one that could easily have an impact on the organization's goals for the future. The culture of the team can change, but only if the team follows Pedroia's lead.
General manager Ben Cherington and the club's button-pushers should already know that that they need to build around Pedroia. The first thing they should do this offseason, in fact, is make him the team captain, thus making it clear that the Red Sox are his team.
After that, Cherington and his staff need to get to work building a team around Pedroia that can gel with his attitude. What the Red Sox need are more dirt dogs.
It may not be so hard for the Red Sox to come up with these players. They're heading into this offseason with a blank slate. They can fill in the gaps however they like. And since the Red Sox haven't had much luck with high-priced players in recent years, it stands to reason that they'll be on the lookout for guys who will still feel like they have something to prove even after joining the Red Sox. Pedroia could use a few more guys like that around him.
If the Red Sox are recreated in Pedroia's image and go on to start winning games, there's one thing he will have been wrong about.
The culture of the club will not have been changed. It will have been rebooted. Instead of playing at being the Yankees, the Red Sox will go back to being the Red Sox again.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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