When he walks off a major league mound for the last time and the appreciative codas begin, Jake Peavy's time with the Red Sox will be remembered as a winning footnote on an excellent career in which his greatest individual highlights were achieved elsewhere.
While Peavy will and should be best remembered for his electrifying repertoire and results as the Padres' ace for a half-dozen seasons, including the pinnacle as the 2007 National League Cy Young Winner when he paced the league in wins (19), ERA (2.54), and strikeouts (240). But even at this different stage of his career -- the wipeout slider makes only cameos now and he's lost a couple of miles per hour off his fastball -- he has delivered some scattered meaningful moments during his 11-plus months with the Red Sox.
Two of particular note:
* In his fifth start since coming over from the White Sox in a three-team deal last July, he threw a complete-game three-hitter at the Dodgers, a gem that made Clay Buchholz's prolonged absence considerably less worrisome.
* He allowed just a run in 5.2 innings in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Rays, a crucial performance given that an angry David Price was lined up for Game 5.
Those performances alone justified acquiring him for slick (and unfortunately, injured) shortstop Jose Iglesias. In winning their third World Series in a decade, the Red Sox required contributions from virtually every player on the roster at one time or another. Peavy did his part.
Like so many of his teammates, he's not having a good follow-up season, and his overall regular season stat line as a member of the Red Sox is just plain weird. He has five wins in 28 starts, with a 4.41 ERA, 91 adjusted OPS, 129/61 K/BB rate, and a Wasdin-like 23 homers allowed. For fun and at least a hint of context, Peavy's Red Sox stats are similar to -- well, to some fairly uninspired seasons in Red Sox history.
And of course ignore the Roger Clemens comp. I just left that in for the hell of it. The Rocket was 21 and ascending. Peavy is 33, seems older (doesn't he always look like he just finished holding his breath?), and is headed to another destination soon where he will likely ascend in the standings.
I hope he ends up in an excellent situation like St. Louis, where he'll surely go 6-2 with a 3.50-ish ERA down the stretch, that big ol' ballpark swallowing up some of the long fly balls before they can clear the fence. Peavy was good here when needed, but I'll probably remember him as being better than he was for a couple of reasons.
He was fun to watch when he was going well, but the entertainment didn't cease even when he was struggling: His bug-eyed competitiveness and loud "C'mon, Peave!" self-admonishments left you chuckling even when the game was getting away from him. I get a kick out of him in the same way I got a kick out Curtis Leskanic a decade ago, if that makes any sense.
The other reason I'll remember him well? He gets it, man, something I first recognized during what was supposed to be the standard next-day's-starters press conference during the ALCS in Detroit last October. Peavy, upon taking the podium, asked to hold off on questions for a moment, then offered a few impromptu, heartfelt words on Wally Bell, the veteran umpire who had died the day before.
He gets Boston, too. Our intense approach to sports is copacetic with his approach to pitching. He appreciates his time here, and he didn't need to purchase a duck boat to prove it. (But he did.)
He's made it clear he'll be sad when he goes, whether it's over the next couple of hours, days, or weeks.
"If that day does come, it's going to be tough for me to look some guys in the eye and not know that I'm [not] going to be on their team," he said last night, as reported by the Globe's Peter Abraham.
But he also understands the practicality of why it will happen. The Red Sox are out of contention. They have young pitching they need to see. Peavy is a veteran whose contract is up at the end of the season. It's best for all parties if he moves on.
"As a player, what we did last year was all I ever dreamed of doing," Peavy said. "When you do that, this place is held in the highest regard it can ever be held. So that being said, I would always want to do what's best for the Boston Red Sox and that could very possibly be being moved to save money for the Boston Red Sox or create some roster space for somebody to come up and take my spot. That's the reality of the situation."
That reality is no fun. We're not even a week beyond the Fourth of July, and already the title defense has turned to a bloodletting of veterans. A.J. Pierzynski, designated for assignment, is the first to go. He was new this year, and a bad idea, and there's no emotional attachment beyond the muttering of "good riddance."
Peavy wasn't here much longer than Pierzynski. But he was a meaningful part of a championship, and he appreciated the time, place, and achievement as much as we did, if not more.
He has the duck boat as a memento. We have our mementos, too -- hell, reminders of last year and what some of these guys accomplished are all we have to cling to this season.
Saying so long to an admirable veteran is one more bummer, one more side-effect that comes from suffering through a lost season after such a rewarding one.
It has to happen. But in the days or weeks before it inevitably does, we're reminded of this: It's a heck of a lot more fun when your team is trading for the likes of Jake Peavy in July than it is sending such a likable player and person off to a ball club with brighter hopes than yours.