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Rookie Pedroia hits the ground running

His teammates tease the diminutive Dustin Pedroia during pregame introductions with low fives; he earned a bit more respect during the game with two hits. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's not as if it was his major league debut. Dustin Pedroia played 31 games at the end of last season when the Red Sox were going down in flames. He batted .191 and hit his first two big league homers in those hideous days of September when the Sox were playing it out like so many Bruins and Celtics.

Yesterday was different. It was Pedroia's first start that mattered. Still a rookie, he was the Opening Day starting second baseman of the Boston Red Sox -- the only unproven starter in a lineup of millionaires and cover boys.

And on a day when just about nothing went right for the Sox, Pedroia managed a couple of hits in three at-bats against Gil Meche, who confounded the rest of the Boston batters for 7 1/3 innings.

"The good news was that he was swinging the bat real well," noted manager Terry Francona.

Not that it was perfect. Pedroia hit a hard shot down the left-field line with two out and nobody aboard in the second and was gunned down by about 15 feet when he attempted to stretch the hit into a double.

"A little aggressive, but his timing was OK," said Francona. "We like his aggressiveness, and that was a situation where you take that chance."

"I was thinking second base all the way," said the 23-year-old Pedroia. "The grass is real thick. But I stumbled a little bit over first base and all my momentum went that way. He made a good throw. I've still got to be aggressive, though."

In the fifth, Pedroia made a nice pivot and throw on a double play grounder to short by Royals first baseman Ryan Shealy.

"Julio [Lugo] made a nice feed," said Pedroia. "I've been working hard on those things and I know it's going to turn around."

But his bat got most of the attention. Pedroia is only 5 feet 9 inches. Your average sportswriter can eat candy off his head. He is a poster boy for Theo Epstein and his crew of baseball stat men, and there is organizational split on Pedroia's ability to make an impact. That's why a 2-for-3 start at the plate on Opening Day means something. Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis were the only two Sox players with more than one hit.

"It felt good," Pedroia said. "I've been feeling good at the plate the last couple of weeks. I'll be fine. Just hit the ball hard. That's the main thing.

"Right now I'm just looking forward to Wednesday. I'm not a player who thinks about numbers. I just want us to win."

Good cliché-speak. On a day when he broke out with a couple of hits, the kid was already talking like a big leaguer.

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