Former Red Sox star Pedroia gets final Fenway salute

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BOSTON — Dustin Pedroia returned to Fenway Park on Friday, this time to be showered with appreciation from fans and a collection of Red Sox royalty for the 17-year career that cemented his place as one of the Boston’s most-beloved players.

The Red Sox’s undersized big man was honored by the team prior to its latest matchup with the rival New York Yankees, a fitting tribute to a player who at the time he announced his retirement in February was the longest-tenured player on Boston’s roster and the only holdover from its 2007 championship team.

With his family looking on, a pregame ceremony began with a jersey-clad Pedroia walking out of the outfield tunnel through smoke and a flash of pyrotechnics as video boards displayed “DUSTIN” and “15” in the outfield.

Pedroia wiped away tears while recorded messages from several coaches and teammates were played. The list included his former coach at Arizona State Pat Murphy, Kevin Cash, David Ross, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and David Ortiz. Pedro Martinez joined the festivities in person.

“It’s special. My whole career I kind of had blinders on. I worried about each day. I never looked back and thought about what I did, what impact I had,” Pedroia said. “To see that today when I walked out today. . It’s special. I did something good.”

Representatives from several of the charity initiatives dear to Pedroia were also on hand, including families and victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Their inclusion also brought on emotion from Pedroia, as did an announcement that he would be elected to the team’s Hall of Fame in 2022, eschewing the usual five-year waiting period.

After a brief speech, Pedroia threw out the ceremonial first pitch to current Red Sox manager and 2007 World Series teammate Alex Cora. The final nod was given by former wrestler Ric Flair, a friend of Pedroia, who presented him with a championship belt.

It was a whirlwind of emotions for Pedroia, who acknowledged afterward that he visited with Ortiz on Thursday to get advice about his feelings of anxiety about returning to Fenway for the first time since April 2019 during one of his final comeback attempts.

“I’ve been through a lot. I thought it was too soon for me to come back,” Pedroia said. “I just wanted to stay away and deal with it.”

He told Ortiz he didn’t know what to say to fans to express his gratitude. Ortiz told him, “They already know that.”

“That kind of helped me relax,” Pedroia said.

The 5-foot-9 Pedroia was AL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the MVP in his second season. But the four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner played only nine games over the three seasons following a spikes-high slide by then-Orioles shortstop Manny Machado that took out Pedroia’s knee in 2017.

Pedroia had made 11 consecutive opening day starts for the Red Sox, second in franchise history only to Carl Yastrzemski. But Pedroia’s career effectively ended with Machado’s slide into second base to break up a double play.

He would try to return to form over the next four years with the same relentlessness he used to help the Red Sox capture a pair of World Series titles in 2007 and 2013.

It wound up being a merry-go-round of surgeries and setbacks that eventually wore down his body to the point where he was told future attempts would adversely affect his quality of life.

Though it was an abrupt end to his time on the diamond, Pedroia said this year that he had no ill will toward Machado or sour feelings about what happened afterward.

Any lingering memories of the incident were overshadowed by Friday’s return to Boston.

Pedroia said he has no doubt that he’ll don a uniform again, saying “maybe” to the possibly managing someday.

“I think everyone knows that,” Pedroia said. “It’s just a matter of time. I want to raise my boys and make sure I don’t miss anything in their life. They deserve that. Then after that, it’s go-time.”

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.