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Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, and the cycle that wasn't

Brock Holt became the first Red Sox player to hit for the cycle in nearly 20 years on Tuesday. But one game in 2008 shows how misleading that bit of history can be.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Holt hit for the cycle on Tuesday against the Braves, providing a small example of individual excellence in a season which has largely provided collective failure.

Shortly after Holt's accomplishment--one that is deemed worthy of immortalization--the Tweets began flying telling everyone that this is the first time a Red Sox player has performed the feat in nearly 20 years. Not since John Valentin in June of 1996. And that's true, at least in the strictest sense. John Valentin was the last player to hit a single, double, triple, and home run all in one game for the Red Sox, and thus the last player to hit for the cycle.

The fact that Valentin is the last, however, just goes to show how silly the cycle is. Not because it's not impressive. Ten total bases in one game is impressive enough, and the ability to both leave the park and make it to third without doing so at least suggests a different skill set from the guy who leaves the park four times in one game.

No, it's the players and performances the history of hitting for the cycle omits that make it seem quite so...arbitrary. Case in point: Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is nowhere to be found on the list of players who hit for the cycle, but he's actually done something better.

On July 2nd, 2008, the Red Sox were facing off against the Rays in a battle for the top of the AL East. The Red Sox were slumping hard, with the Rays having overtaken them and padded their lead on the back of a four-game winning streak. Pedroia would put the Sox ahead in that game with a first-inning homer, then scored the team's second run to once again give them the lead in the third after tripling to center. He was responsible for the team's third run as well, doubling off Scott Kazmir in the fifth and scoring on a J.D. Drew triple.

All that was left for the cycle was a single. But he couldn't manage it in the sixth, instead flying out, and in the seventh the Rays overcame a 4-1 deficit by scoring six times off Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, David Aardsma, and Javier Lopez.

So when Dustin Pedroia came up in the eighth with a man on second and two outs, the Red Sox needed anything he could give them. Pedroia hit a line drive to left-center, touched first, and then, as the runner scored, proceeded to second.

Let's be clear: Dustin Pedroia had the cycle. All he had to do was stop at a game where his team trailed 7-5 in the eighth against their biggest competition in the division. Of course Dustin Pedroia didn't do that, since he's Dustin Pedroia trying to win a game, not Ricky Davis trying to record a triple-double. But it just goes to show how silly the cycle is in its omission of these games. These aren't players who are missing out on history because of a mental lapse, but ones who miss out on history because they're playing the game properly.

It's hardly an isolated incident, either. 25 times a player has hit a homer, a triple, two doubles, and no singles. Six times they've doubled up on triples instead. There's some argument to be made that, in the same way four homers isn't quite the same as the cycle, the two homer, one triple, one double game isn't quite the same either, but let's be honest: if the 19 men who managed that feat had hit the ball just a little less well, they would very likely have had a double off the wall or some other extra base hit. If you can't assume the triple, you can at least assume the single.

In fact, one of the players in that last category happens to have done it for the Red Sox in the time since Valentin's cycle: Carl Everett, once again against the (Devil) Rays, all the way back on August 29, 2000.

None of this is to take anything away from Brock Holt. Even if you add in those three groups of players, we're still talking about a feat that's only been achieved something like 350 times in better than a century of baseball games. He had an excellent game in what has been an impressive season. But until the history of hitting for the cycle starts to include all those players who didn't stop at first, its' going to be a little hard to take it seriously.