When Dustin Pedroia was playing for Pawtucket last year, he did a little reconnaissance when his team faced Toledo, although he wasn't aware at the time that he was doing it.
He saw the way that righthanded hitter Josh Phelps could rip the ball up the middle. That knowledge came in handy Sunday night when the Red Sox second baseman suited up against Phelps and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.
It was the eighth inning, and the Yankees had the tying run at third base with two outs. Knowing Phelps as he did, Pedroia took a calculated risk by moving a little bit to his right. Sure enough, Phelps drilled a liner up the middle, and Pedroia made a diving grab to end the inning. The Sox went on to win, 7-6, and sweep New York in the three-game series.
"He can hit," said Pedroia. "I knew if we were going out over the plate, he would square the ball up in the middle of the field, and I just happened to be right there. It's definitely a lot easier when you've played against guys and you know them. I know he has hard contact in the middle of the field and you just try to go from there. I didn't really have time to think it was hit so hard."
The 23-year-old rookie didn't spend any time reveling in the play.
He didn't even see a replay until yesterday, when he arrived at the clubhouse to get ready for last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I just saw it when I came in," he said. "One time, that was about it. The only thing was trying to get out of the inning. He hit the ball and I just got a good jump on it and caught it. It definitely felt good."
If he is feeling confident in his defense, his hitting is just starting to come around. Pedroia hit a double in the second inning Sunday, ending an 0-for-13 drought. He added a single in the seventh, giving him his first multihit game since May 5 at Kansas City. In last night's 7-3 loss, he hit a two-run double in the fourth inning that temporarily gave the Sox the lead, and he finished the night with a .205 average.
"I'll get going," he said. "I've only had 40-something at-bats. It's no big deal. I'm swinging the bat well and I'll just go out there today and try to have good at-bats every time I get out."
Pedroia -- who says he is 5-7 and 160 pounds, though the team's guide generously lists him at 5-9, 180 -- admits to being somewhat of a slow starter, but he believes he has taken a step toward breaking through that.
"It usually takes me a while to get going, but once I get going, I get real hot," he said. "It's tough, but you have to fight through it. That's why you play 162 games.
"If it was two weeks, some people would have success and some wouldn't. It's a grind; you just have to grind through it. When you're not going well, you have to try to find ways to get on base whether it's a walk or get hit by a pitch, do anything you can. But now I'm swinging it well."
As for playing the Yankees, Pedroia said it's hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere whenever the American League East titans go head to head. He said it made his contributions all the more satisfying.
"That was a huge win and the sweep and stuff," said Pedroia, "especially against the Yankees. We all know they're banged up and we're not, so it's definitely good to win when they are not 100 percent.
"I've never been in the playoffs but I'm sure that's what it's like. It was definitely fun and it's definitely a lot better when you win."