ARLINGTON, Texas — There was a time, not all that long ago, when the idea of an All-Star Game without Dustin Pedroia was as offensive to New Englanders as buying donuts from anywhere besides Dunkin Donuts.
Those days are gone.
Pedroia is still the engine that drives the Boston Red Sox, but 12 years into his career, at age 33, after dozens of bumps and bruises and breaks, he isn’t quite so turbocharged anymore. Entering play here Monday night, he ranked only seventh among American League second basemen in hits (73), doubles (14), RBIs (32) and OPS (.761), and was tied for ninth in wins above replacement (1.1), according to Fangraphs.
So, after the All-Star rosters were announced Sunday night, not even the most ardent Red Sox fan would’ve thought to include Pedroia on the list of snubs. When the Seattle Mariners‘ Robinson Cano, for years Pedroia’s second-base counterpart with the New York Yankees, couldn’t crack the roster, nobody was about to claim that Pedroia merited a trip to Miami next week.
Every now and then, though, Pedroia has a way of reminding us that his value to the Red Sox has always gone far beyond All-Star appearances. And there was not a more valuable player than Pedroia in the ballpark Monday night during an 11-inning, 7-5 victory over the Texas Rangers.
It wasn’t only that Pedroia notched three hits or drove in four runs, tying his season-high. He made a handful of extraordinary defensive plays, including a breathtaking barehand catch and throw of a carom on an overthrow of first base after the Rangers had tied the game in the ninth inning.
No wonder John Farrell, who has been with the Red Sox for the majority of Pedroia’s career as either the pitching coach or manager, had a hard time recalling a better all-around performance.
“He’s had a lot of great seasons here, a lot of great games,” Farrell said, “but tonight might be one of the better games he’s played in this uniform.”
Lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel blew only his second save of the season, but Pedroia should have gotten credit for his first. Kimbrel gave up a game-tying homer to Mike Napoli on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth inning. On the second pitch, Gomez hit a check-swing roller to third baseman Deven Marrero, who charged and barehanded the ball and threw wide of first base.
Gomez rounded first. but Pedroia backed up the play. As the ball pinballed off an embankment in foul territory, Pedroia scooped it up with his right hand and pushed a perfect throw to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who would have been excused if he dropped the ball out of stunned surprise.
“I think he almost dove for it to catch it and then threw it lying down, maybe? It was a pretty unbelievable play,” said Moreland, who spent the past seven seasons with the Rangers and couldn’t recall a similar play. “It had to hit that pad and that corner perfect to kind of give us an opportunity, and he was there. He was in the right spot. Not just that play, but everything Pedey did today on the field was pretty fun to watch.”
Said right fielder Mookie Betts: “I don’t know how he did it, but he did it. I think it changed the inning completely. It really changed the game completely.”
Even Kimbrel concurred with that. If nothing else, it allowed him to catch his breath. Instead of the winning run being on base, perhaps even in scoring position, the bases were empty with one out.
“It was just a pretty ridiculous play,” Kimbrel said. “I think it’s something if we try to do that play 100 times, it probably wouldn’t happen. Just the right place at the right time. The effort he had to back up the play is the reason he made it. You don’t expect anything other than that from Dustin because that’s how he plays the game.”
But here’s the best part: Pedroia was utterly unfazed when asked about the play after the game. He was “just backing up the base,” he said, something he does every time on a throw to first.
And about Farrell’s claim that Pedroia might never have played a better game, not even during his Rookie of the Year, MVP and four All-Star seasons?
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s seen me play a lot. I just try to play the same every night, you know what I mean? That’s it. Show up to the yard to compete and try to win a game.”
That’s one thing that will never change for Pedroia. Even as he ages and his body continues to absorb the physical toll that comes with playing second base every day for six consecutive months, sometimes longer, Pedroia’s effort doesn’t wane, his feel for the game isn’t diminished.
“I’ve seen him make so many spectacular plays now since I’ve been playing with him,” pitcher Rick Porcello said. “You don’t under-appreciate it, but he makes it the norm. You almost come to expect it from him.”
That will always be true, even if Pedroia never makes another All-Star team.