It was Monday afternoon, about an hour before game time, and Dustin Pedroia entered the dugout. There sat a young kid, maybe 11 years old, a taped-up jersey covering his back. He had converted an "18" to a "15," a "Damon" to a "Pedroia," and wanted to make sure Pedroia knew he had always been a fan - in the lean days as well as the fruitful ones.
Pedroia might have (or might not have) believed him. But it hardly matters anymore. With the scintillating Jacoby Ellsbury as his 1-2 partner in the order, Pedroia has dusted all doubts, leading to the distinct possibility that his sophomore campaign might be even better than his freshman one.
Which was good, especially last night, his four hits (three doubles) combining with Ellsbury's two home runs and bunt single to buoy the Red Sox on a night that could have been a lost cause, and instead turned into a 7-6 win over the Angels at Fenway Park.
Witness the pregame frustration for Josh Beckett, who missed out on his fourth start of the season, coming up with a stiff neck yesterday afternoon. With the Red Sox on alert because of Beckett's bout with the current clubhouse illness - it has also hit Manny Delcarmen and Jason Varitek, along with a couple of coaches - the starter turned up with the unanticipated neck problem, leading to a bit of a change. David Pauley, already waiting in a Boston hotel, got the word around 4 p.m. that he would be the night's starter.
"We were worried about Beckett the last couple days because he had been sick," said manager Terry Francona before the game. "He showed up today and we had talked to him last night and this morning, and that was not an issue, but his neck got real stiff.
"Whether it's related or not, how do you know? But we're not going to run him out there and have him potentially hurt his shoulder because he's got a stiff neck."
After the game, Francona said his guess would be that Beckett's turn in the rotation would be skipped, keeping him on his normal day, which would be Sunday against Tampa Bay. But there will be another evaluation today.
And though he might have been missed early by the crowd of 37,982, he wasn't missed quite so much late. Ellsbury took care of that, hitting two solo home runs, the first to lead off the game for the first time in his career, and the second with two outs in the sixth, breaking a 5-5 tie. It was an evening that prompted Francona to label him "Damonesque."
To that, he added the bunt single in the eighth, which put him on first base for Pedroia. Having already hit two doubles and a single, Pedroia (.364, tops in the American League) took advantage of the extra attention Scot Shields paid to Ellsbury on first base, rifling a double down the left-field line that scored the center fielder with the seventh run.
After the Angels took a 5-1 lead in the fourth - most of the damage being done by Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, and Erick Aybar, the bottom three in the order - the Sox crawled back into the game.
"They've got an offensive team that's tough from top to bottom," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "If you're not where you need to be in some zones and some counts, they let you know about it, and they were able to get back into the game tonight."
First, Julio Lugo singled to score J.D. Drew in the fourth, Lugo's sixth straight hit over two games. Then David Ortiz singled home Pedroia, followed by the big blow. One batter after Vladimir Guerrero stole a home run from Manny Ramírez, Kevin Youkilis blasted one to the Monster seats to tie the score, the fifth run scored off Angels starter Jered Weaver before he exited the game.
Ellsbury's second homer gave the Sox the lead. But Casey Kotchman's homer, off Hideki Okajima, tied it up again.
That lasted all of six batters and half an inning, Pedroia stroking the game-winning double to left field.
"He's such a dangerous hitter," Francona said. "He knows how to play the game. All he tries to do when he shows up every day is win. That's really what he cares about."
With Pauley lasting just 4 2/3 innings, the Red Sox had to turn to Julian Tavarez, who kept the Angels off the board for 1 2/3. Okajima followed him, entering with men on first and second and no outs. But he got Guerrero to fly to right field. Then, after the runners advanced on a throwing error by Kevin Cash, he popped up Garret Anderson and struck out Torii Hunter swinging.
It seemed like it might be enough - until he allowed that Kotchman home run.
But the Sox quickly authored their 10th comeback win of the season, their sixth in their last eight wins.
"Every win's important," Pedroia said. "It doesn't matter who's out there or what the circumstances are. We're trying to win every game we can, because we know at the end of the year, if you look back and [there's] one game that you could have won and you didn't, it could mean going to the playoffs or not going to the playoffs."