They were always going to be linked, Michael Chavis and Dustin Pedroia. The injury to the latter necessitated the former, no matter what this opening major league cameo for the 23-year-old ends up being. What happened at the end of a lost Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers just further formalized it.
At some point after Chavis’s 441-foot, eighth-inning mortar stopped bounding on Lansdowne Street, a father and son picked it up and returned it. As is the custom, they requested a souvenir for their trouble. And as sometimes happens, said souvenir had nothing to do with the person who hit the baseball.
“I need to thank Dustin,” Chavis told reporters. “Apparently, he signed a ball so whoever found it would give me the ball and they were very gracious so if they see this, thank you very much.”
It’s a cool little story. Though for the purposes of the 2019 product, not the most notable one involving Dustin Pedroia and a baseball in the four-game set Boston managed to split with the genuinely bad Tigers, winning 11-4 and 7-3 after the Tigers swept that Tuesday doubleheader. Eduardo Rodriguez has thrown a slider on and off since breaking into the majors in 2015, but came out for his Wednesday start with some pointers offered him by Pedroia, who apparently threw a “nasty breaking ball” in high school. (To which the only logical response is, “Of course he did.”)
The slider only got one swing-and-miss and a couple outs, but it was part of a total package that had the Tigers befuddled to the tune of two hits and a run for six innings. Combined with Rick Porcello’s quality start on Thursday, and suddenly the Red Sox starters have allowed three or fewer runs in 12 of 13 games. The exception is Chris Sale, but that’s a story for the weekend, when he gets a crack at the MLB-best Tampa Bay Rays.
This is about Chavis, who has been ebullient since he got here in a way we don’t see very much. And it’s not simply that his 4-for-18 (.222) start includes two home runs, a 400-foot double, and an all-hustle infield single. It’s describing his career-opening double as “awesome, dude … it was really cool,” an earnestness that’s echoed in his 11:11 missives and discussions of his religion. It was his heart-on-her-sleeve mother making it a point to mention on NESN that her daughter just passed the bar.
It’s hardly a perfect story, not when he just missed a half-season for a steroid suspension he’s pleaded ignorance about, but it’s something fresh that this squad needed beyond production. The degree to which it’s a specific hangover cure in the clubhouse is hard to measure. The degree to which it’s been outside it is vast, regardless.
Where does it go? Brock Holt is scheduled to resume his scratched cornea rehab on Friday. Eduardo Nunez isn’t far behind him. Where does that leave Chavis, who’s started five straight, four at second without incident? Probably back in Pawtucket, where he can get regular at-bats, though a strong three games against the Rays could still change that argument.
As could Pedroia, who worked out before Wednesday’s game and will soon force manager Alex Cora to do something with him.
Twelve years ago now, after the regular season for which Pedroia would win Rookie of the Year and before the postseason in which he’d win his first World Series ring, the Globe’s Amalie Benjamin did a massive front-page feature on Pedroia. Near the end of it, a still-playing Cora noted what a “baseball rat” the rook was.
“When we get on the plane, he plays cribbage with Mikey [Lowell], then halfway through playing he starts talking baseball. He comes over and talks to [Eric Hinske] about baseball. You really appreciate that,” Cora said.
“I told him, ‘Dude, you’re my bench coach. When I’m managing, you’re going to be my bench coach.'”
Since finding that a couple years ago, I’ve thought of it often. In the context of Pedroia now contributing to the team for a second year from the bench, undone by a balky knee (even if this injury scare is just that). In the context of Cora’s genuine friendship with Pedroia, first as the rookie he handled with such aplomb even as Pedroia took his job, now as the manager tasked with handling a veteran whose days as an everyday player are, at best, nearly over. At the sloppy nature of career conclusions, and the regularity with which guys fight far too long to hold on.
“Part of the baseball culture is baseball talk — they’re the ones playing,” Cora told reporters when asked about Pedroia’s pitching clinic. “They can help each other out. That’s what makes the team better, the louder the talk in the clubhouse, I’ve been saying that for a year and a half now, the better it is. That’s part of what good teams do.”
To be clear, I don’t think Michael Chavis is going to turn Pedroia into Wally Pipp. He’s not even really a second baseman, for one thing. The team certainly isn’t going to force Pedroia into anything — if they could essentially stow Blake Swihart on a shelf last year to keep him from other teams, they’ll certainly do so eagerly with a face-of-the-franchise like Pedroia.
The transition, however, is on in earnest. That was clear this week in multiple ways. May it continue to be as fruitful, and as peaceful, as it has been to now.
Tampa comes to town
Before we go, a quick thought on the Rays (16-9), who took 2 of 3 at home from Kansas City after the Red Sox (11-15) swept them at Tropicana Field.
They come north significantly dinged, with both Austin Meadows (hitting .351/.422/.676 with six homers when he sprained his thumb) and Joey Wendle (a .300 hitter as a rookie last year whose wrist was broken on Wednesday) unavailable, plus Cy Young winner Blake Snell missing the weekend after an inauspicious return on Wednesday from his freak bathroom injury.
Regardless, expectations are high.
“A lot of us were very bitter after this past weekend, coming up on the short end of the stick three games in a row. We know what we want to accomplish this weekend. We want to get back at them,” Kevin Kiermaier told reporters on Wednesday. “We want to win all three. We have the talent. We have the guys to do it. It’ll be a big test for us. It’s an important series for us getting revenge and proving to ourselves we can still beat the best teams in baseball. And we will.”
The Rays, for what it’s worth, haven’t won three straight at Fenway Park in a single season since 2015.
Tampa is scheduled to use Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow to begin the series, likely going with a bullpen game on Sunday. Cora is playing coy for Friday’s game, concerned about a potential weather delay, with David Price and Sale scheduled for the weekend.