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BOSTON -- The first day of spring training, Red Sox newcomer Jonny Gomes was unpacking his things in the clubhouse when an animated Dustin Pedroia grabbed him by the jersey.
"We gotta win, man. You understand?" Pedroia said. "I don't want to go through what we did last year.
"It's the first time I was ever on a losing team in my entire life, and I'm not going through that ever again. OK?"
Gomes, who had worked out for years with Pedroia during the offseason in Arizona, sized up his friend for a moment, then busted out laughing.
"OK," Gomes replied.
"And that's when I knew I had made the right decision by coming to the Red Sox," Gomes said later. "Because whenever you get to play alongside Dustin Pedroia, something good is gonna happen."
|Gomes says, "Whenever you get to play alongside Dustin Pedroia, something good is gonna happen."|
Good? Something great happened during Gomes' first season with his pal Pedey and the Red Sox. Boston won the World Series, Gomes established himself as a face-planting, swashbuckling cult hero and joined David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and David Ross as players who delivered with clutch hits during the postseason to complete the "worst-to-first" narrative.
Jon Lester and John Lackey capped off their redemptive seasons with inspiring pitching performances, and closer Koji Uehara etched a permanent place in Red Sox annals by proving to be close to untouchable when it mattered.
"He's our Mariano Rivera," pitching coach Juan Nieves declared.
Ortiz was otherworldly, cementing his status as the face of the Boston Red Sox with his .688 World Series batting average and 1.948 OPS.
On a stage cluttered with World Series heroes, Pedroia was almost an afterthought amid the glitter of the championship. He didn't produce the gaudiest of numbers or the bushiest of beards, yet if Ortiz is the face of this baseball franchise, Pedroia remains its heart and soul.
If you go solely by the box score, the clinching World Series Game 6 win was a forgettable one for Pedroia. He was 0-for-5 with an uncharacteristic error to finish the Series with a .208 average (5-for-24).
Yet his play in the field and his voice in the clubhouse were unwavering. Pedroia played throughout the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery next week. The injury, he now confesses, was limiting and, at times, "really, really tough."
He still managed to play a career-high 160 games, bat .301 and win his third Gold Glove.
"Plain and simple," Ross said, "we don't win without him. He set the tone from day one."
Pedroia sustained his injury on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium sliding headfirst into first base. He felt a searing pain in his thumb but stayed in the game, batted 2-for-6 with an RBI, then checked in with the medical staff following the game. A subsequent MRI revealed the ligament tear, and the course of recommended treatment was surgery.
"We had a day off and I got checked out and then I got this news," Pedroia said. "I'm driving home and I'm just sick about it. Then I get this text from Jacoby [Ellsbury]. He says, 'Are you OK?'
"I tell him, 'I've torn the ligaments in my thumb. I might need surgery,'" Pedroia recalled. "He comes back with, 'Is there any way you can play through it? We need you.'"
Until that moment, Pedroia admitted, he was mentally preparing to undergo the operation, be fitted for a cast and be sidelined for weeks.
"Jacoby hasn't said something like that to me in seven years we've been together," Pedroia said. "I looked at [my wife] Kelli, and I told her about Jacoby's text. Then I said, 'I gotta play with this. He would do it for me. All the guys would. I have to do it for them.'"
Pedroia opted to gut it out through the season. While the ligament tear clearly affected the pop in his bat (he hit only nine homers), he knocked in 84 runs, scored 91 runs and stole 17 bases.
In a postseason highlighted by dominant pitching performances, Pedroia found a way to battle each of the top aces.
When Adam Wainwright hung a breaking ball over the plate in Game 5 of the World Series, Pedroia roped a one-out double and scored the first run of the game.
He also had a pair of near home run misses. In Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Pedroia nearly jumped Detroit Tigers ace Max Scherzer for a homer to left field, but the ball strayed to the left of the pole and was ruled foul.
|Were it not for his injured left thumb, Pedroia thinks this World Series Game 6 foul ball over the Monster would have stayed fair.|
He launched a nearly identical shot in Game 6 of the World Series against wunderkind Michael Wacha in the first inning, even channeling his inner Fisk by trying to will it fair with his body language.
That, too, tailed foul by inches.
"I couldn't follow through with my swing because of my thumb," Pedroia explained. "That's why I was hooking the ball. If I'm healthy, both of those balls probably stay fair."
Had Game 3 of the World Series played out differently, we'd still be talking about Pedroia's diving stab of a Jon Jay grounder with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. An alert Pedroia fired the ball to the plate so Jarrod Saltalamacchia could put the tag on Yadier Molina at home. His heads-up play was quickly forgotten after Saltalamacchia's subsequent errant throw to third and the obstruction call on third baseman Will Middlebrooks that ended the game.
Though the play left Boston trailing 2-1 in the series, Pedroia said his teammates did what they always do: band together and turn the controversy into positive clubhouse chemistry.
Pedroia said he still hasn't really slept since the Red Sox won the World Series.
"Every night I go to bed, I keep thinking about all the things guys did to win it for us," he said. "It's truly unbelievable what we've just done. Everybody did something throughout the year to help us.
"Back in 2007, we had the most talent the whole year. It was, 'Let's go out and play.' But this year, so much happened. Some of [the] guys went through so much, and then everything that happened with the city.
"I can still remember the feeling among our team the day after [the Boston Marathon bombings]. Everybody had a different look in their eye. There was this feeling of, 'We have to do something to make this better, for people to get some relief from the team they love.'"
Pedroia knows that love was flagging last season, when the Red Sox lost 93 games and were dismissed as a punch line for entitled athletes.
"It crushed me," he admitted. "Really, it was the first time I had ever been on a team without a winning record," he said. "I hated it. I didn't feel like talking to the media. I didn't know what to say.
"It was tough because it was constant, every day. People were just killing us. We were losing, and the fans didn't seem like they were proud of our team, and that really bothered me.
"I thought about it every day during the offseason. I was texting guys all through the winter. I kept telling them, 'We're in this together. We gotta find a way to get this team right.'"
In order to win the World Series, you need to avoid prolonged injuries, plus have depth at each position, three front-line pitchers and a generous dollop of luck.
"They say all the cards have to be in place," Pedroia agreed, "and that you need some breaks. Well, the way I look at it, teams make their own breaks.
"We did that this year, and the year before, we didn't."
There will be changes to the roster in 2014. The Red Sox made qualifying offers to free agents Stephen Drew, Ellsbury and Mike Napoli, but that doesn't guarantee all three will return. The Sox didn't extend a qualifying offer to Saltalamacchia, but that doesn't mean he's gone, either.
"I wish we could keep it the same," Pedroia said. "It was a tight team. You listen to [David] Ross, and you walk away thinking, 'That guy is awesome.'
"And then there's Mike Napoli, who, no matter what situation we got into had an answer for us. Then, there's a guy like Ryan Dempster, who helped out [Clay] Buchholz and some of the other young pitchers so much. That's the stuff that gets overlooked, but it's the stuff that got us here."
|Pedroia says he would be thrilled to see free agent-to-be Jacoby Ellsbury back in Boston next year.|
Pedroia plans to hunt down Ellsbury in Scottsdale, Ariz., over the next few days to make his case for keeping his friend in town.
"He's probably at a restaurant somewhere, because all he does is eat," Pedroia said. "I might try to talk with him a little bit.
"Jacoby loves playing in Boston. There's this misconception out there that all he wanted to do this year was maximize his value so he could go somewhere else. That's not fair. He's been a great teammate, a huge part of our team. I'll be really happy if I show up to spring training and see him there."
There is a possibility his surgery may be more complicated than originally thought because of the wear and tear suffered by the torn ligament. Pedroia may need to have a procedure which would use a tendon from his wrist to help repair the thumb ligament, adding a "couple weeks" to his recovery time.
"They tell me it's no big deal," he said. "Either way, I'll be back in time for spring training."
Pitchers and catchers don't report for duty until February. Boston has been World Series champions less than 10 days, but already Dustin Pedroia's mind is going.
He has sent his manager John Farrell a text (or two or three) with some ideas for next season.