Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia has earned right to leave on own terms

“I need a little reflection now, to reevaluate, chill out, and see how everything responds."

Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia has played just nine major league games in the past two years. Jim Davis/Boston Globe Staff

When word came at 12:45 p.m. Monday via press release from the Red Sox public relations department, it was impossible not to assume a wonderful baseball career was about to slide into the past tense.

The release passed along word that Dustin Pedroia, who had been placed on the 60-day injured list earlier on Memorial Day after cutting short a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, would meet with the media an hour later in the interview room.

Joining him would be manager Alex Cora, a trusted teammate during Pedroia’s heady early years when Pedroia followed a Rookie of the Year 2007 season with the American League Most Valuable Player award in ’08, and the boss, general manager Dave Dombrowski.

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The manager and the general manager flanking an aging star behind a table and in front of the media is such a familiar final scene for athletes announcing their retirement that it’s practically a cliché.

But this was not goodbye. It was something almost as jarring and nearly as sad.

Pedroia, whose love for baseball is so strong that he’s habitually resisted taking off an inning, let alone a whole game, is taking an indefinite break to consider his future, the surgically-repaired left knee that cost him most of the last two seasons refusing to cooperate with his comeback plans.

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“The last game I played [Friday for Pawtucket, when he pulled himself out after four innings] the pain was to a point where I had to tell trainer, ‘listen man, I’ve got to come out,’ ’’ said Pedroia, who said more surgery is not an option.

“I’ve tried so many things, from braces to orthotics to rehab methods to seeing different doctors to every type of treatment possible. So I’m at a point right now where I need some time. That’s what my status is.’’

That status is a cruel kind of purgatory, self-prescribed time away from the game he never wants to miss yet has so often in recent seasons. Pedroia, 35, underwent a cartilage restoration procedure in October 2017, and had scar tissue removed arthroscopically last July. He has played just nine major league games in the past two years, going 3 for 31.

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No, Monday was not goodbye. What it is, most likely, is bought time while he comes to grips with the knowledge that if there is no miracle ahead, he is going to have to say it.

“I need a little reflection now, to reevaluate, chill out, and see how everything responds,’’ he said.

Pedroia did not put a specific time frame on how long he’ll take to think about what comes next. But the doubt-me-at-your-own-peril defiance that has been part of his appeal during a 14-year career in which he’s made four All-Star teams, collected four Gold Gloves, and won three championships was absent Monday.

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“It’s weird, man,’’ he said, when reminded of his optimism when he spoke to reporters earlier in May. “Some days I feel fine. Then an hour later I can’t even . . . like, walking is tough. So you guys probably caught me at the time where I felt good. That’s just the tough part at this level. You play 162 games in 183 days or whatever it is and if I’m on an hour-to-hour basis on being able to do anything athletically, that’s tough. I think the time will give me the right answer if my knee can do this.’’

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Few athletes get to go out on their own terms. This might be as close as Pedroia will get. At times it did feel like goodbye. Cora reminisced about how Pedroia won him over upon his late-season callup in 2006 with his attention to detail. Dombrowski called him “one of the most respected players in the game since I’ve been in it’’ and said there would always be a place for him with the Red Sox organization, like a David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez.

It was easy to wonder if they knew something more than they were letting on at the moment. Over in the visitors dugout, Indians manager Terry Francona — Pedroia’s first big league manager, clubhouse cribbage nemesis, and friend — acknowledged that he has spoken to Pedroia for about a half-hour before his press conference.

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“He’s in a pretty good place. I think,’’ said Francona, who managed Pedroia from 2006-11, winning the ’07 World Series together. “I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he knows he emptied his tank. He didn’t leave any stone unturned. He probably gave more than he should, and his body is feeling it now. I don’t think he has any regrets — nor should he.’’

Pedroia did not sound like he had regrets. He sounded like he was hoping for a miracle, but not necessarily expecting one to come.

“I just tried to do it day by day,’’ he said when asked if he’d thought about the big picture while he was rehabbing. “I didn’t look at it as a long-term thing. It’s kind of tough when the doctors are saying no, and I’m saying yes.’’

He had nothing but appreciation for how the Red Sox have handled the fits and stops of his two-year rehab process. “They care about me, and you can’t say that about every franchise,’’ he said.

Any notion that Pedroia should retire to save the Red Sox from the $25 million remaining on his contract after this season is too cynical to take seriously. There’s no harm in allowing a longtime cornerstone and champion to decide when the end credits will roll, as the Mets did with David Wright last year.

Perhaps this officially ends with a couple more at-bats and a rousing ovation or two during the final home series of the regular season against the Orioles in late September. It wouldn’t qualify as a miracle, but it would be an appropriate farewell for a superb, deserving player.

When Pedroia walks away from baseball, we know it will be with a limp. The least he deserves is to be able to go as gracefully as he can.