Never mind very good, but this has also not been a particularly strange and quirky baseball season for the Red Sox.
Until Wednesday night’s 11-4 victory – historians will one day call it ‘The Night Dustin Pedroia Became a Pitching Guru and Saved the Season’ — most of the preceding 24 game analyses, especially the 15 losses, were more like grim-faced autopsy reports filed after a morbid performance and then a morgue-like clubhouse.
But a couple of things happened Wednesday night that were weird, fluky and happily-ever-after enough to maybe, just maybe, possibly flip the early-season script and the Red Sox’ fortunes as well.
That third-inning J.D. Martinez’ line drive down the left-field foul line got wedged into the gap between the garage door and the still-standing concrete door frame for a ground was one of those only-in-Fenway type of moments that we all like to see. It wasn’t a ladder ball, but it was close enough.
Then there was the fact that the Red Sox piled on seven runs in the eighth inning, three of them scoring courtesy of bases-loaded walks – gruesome for the Tigers’ sake, high comedy from the Red Sox’ perspective.
The seven-run margin of victory – it should have, could have been 10 runs if not for another hard-hit outing from Tyler Thornburg, who gave up three runs on two walks and two hits in the ninth – was the cushiest of the season, considering the total margin of victory in the first nine victories was a combined 16 runs.
But the goofiest part of the evening came after Eduardo Rodriguez’ mostly dominating and highly encouraging start – six innings, two hits, one run allowed, with three walks and seven strikeouts.
He was giving his standard post-start press conference when he got asked about his particularly effective slider that he had used.
And he surprised us all.
“It’s funny, because four days ago, I was talking with Pedey in the dugout and he told me, ‘Hey, do you want to throw a really good breaking ball?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, bro, I’ve been battling to throw a breaking ball since I got here in the big leagues, since I was in the minor leagues,’” said Rodriguez. “He told me throw the ball like ‘this’ and hold it like ‘that,’ and two days ago I started throwing it with my knee over there, and it’s funny, because the first time I threw that kind of breaking ball was today and it was working. So, I’ve just got to say thanks to him.”
Now, the slider is not – check that, has not – been a go-to third pitch for Rodriguez through the years. He’s been mainly a fastball-change-up type, with a cut fast-ball his most common third pitch the last couple of years. His slider usage has been on the decline the last four seasons – it was 16 percent in 2016, then 11, then 9 and then just 3.5 percent this season.
Rodriguez’ development has been a major target of Red Sox organizational resources. Much time and energy has been spent on seeing him reach his potential, and he has been enigmatic — a left-handed Clay Buchholz, if you will. His last three starts now have been awfully good – 2-0, 3.00 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP – as good as anybody else on the team. He is pitching like an ace.
And he’s taking pitching tips from a second baseman – pitching tips that worked after Rodrigurez began fiddling with them 48 hours before his start?
Well, why not?
“I told him, ‘Bro, I’m going to throw that today, and you tell me how it is,’ and I think it worked pretty good,” said Rodriguez.
What in the world does Pedroia know about pitching? (Hint – Rodriguez is the wrong guy to ask, but Pedroia wasn’t around.)
“I don’t know — he just told me that he was throwing that when he was in school,” said Rodriguez. “Just sitting on the bench with him, he said, ‘Do you want to see a nasty breaking ball?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ ‘Just hold the ball like this and throw it.’ The next day I got the ball and I throw the first one, ‘Oh, this is moving pretty good.’ I threw it in the bullpen and I threw it in the game today and it was working.”
So, it was a slider, huh?
“I don’t know — whatever you want to call it,” said Rodriguez. “Just something that went right where I wanted.”
Of course, if Rick Porcello goes out Thursday night and somehow relapses from the Porcello who had his best start his last start, or if the offense flattens out or if the ball doesn’t carom off any random angles and the Red Sox manage to lose their third game in three tries to a not real good Tigers team, then this Pedroia pitching angle is going to look like pretty foofy.
But if the Red Sox and Porcello and the offense and not Thornburg roll again, then the magic gyroball Pedroia taught Rodriguez is going to turn into a legend – and turn a season around.