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Pedroia big in the clutch

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 25, 2010

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DENVER — Darnell McDonald is relatively new to the Dustin Pedroia phenomena.

He’s starting to get the little guy who plays big theme.

“He plays like he’s 6-5, 230 pounds,’’ McDonald said. “I don’t think anyone even looks at him and sees that size. It’s incredible what he does.’’

As Huston Street found out when he hung a slider to Pedroia in the 10th inning with Marco Scutaro aboard, “that’s why they hung MVP by his name,’’ Street said.

And who knows? Maybe that’s why they’ll hang it by his name again and again and again.

Pedroia went 5 for 5, reached base six times, and hit three home runs, including the winner in a 13-11 decision over the Rockies. MVPs know when it’s time. They know when the team is feeling down, as was the case after the Sox had lost two tough games to the Rockies, then watching Jonathan Papelbon blow an 11-9 lead in the ninth to send the game to extras.

“He picked up the whole team,’’ Papelbon said when asked if Pedroia picked him up.

Pedroia received a text from manager Terry Francona earlier in the day. “Do you want to hit third?’’

Pedroia responded, “Yeah, whatever, it doesn’t matter.’’ Although Pedroia has hit third and fourth, he doesn’t come to the ballpark feeling like he’s David Ortiz. Well, he better start. He might be better than just about anyone right now. After a slow start, some wondered if this was the year the “little guy’’ in him finally takes its toll. Oh, right.

Pedroia was 2 for 22 hitting third in those horrible Big Papi days.

At his lowest moment — .248 average on June 9 — Pedroia wasn’t feeling great, dealing with a knee injury. But after a knee exam reinforced to him he didn’t have structural damage, Pedroia let it loose. He had talked about putting out a “laser show,’’ and that time has come.

He’s now hitting .293 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs. One of his goals has always been to hit more than 20 homers and it appears he’s going to do that with ease.

Disappointed he didn’t get the triple for the cycle?

“No, I was happy with what I got,’’ he said. “That was a long game, an emotionally draining game.’’

Pedroia said he hit the homer “real high on the barrel and back-spun it, so with the thin air I just hoped it would get into the first or second row. I just saw the left fielder put his head down and I thought, ‘That’s awesome!’ I was happy we scored. We were trying to win at that point. The last two nights — the bad-hop ground ball [in a 2-1 loss] and then the home runs [allowed by Papelbon to blow Wednesday night’s game] — it was great to win this one.’’

Pedroia went through a 20-for-40 stretch during a 10-game hitting streak that was snapped Tuesday night. He had gone 1 for 9 before erupting last night. He doubled to right with two outs in the first. He led off the fourth with a solo homer to cut Colorado’s margin to 2-1. He walked in the fifth and scored on Adrian Beltre’s homer. He singled to center in the seventh during a three-run inning and homered again in the eighth, off Rafael Betancourt, before his 10th-inning heroics.

With 12 homers, he tied Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr with double-digit homers for Sox second basemen in three consecutive seasons. Doerr did it six straight seasons from 1946-51, but Pedroia has a chance to match it. It was also the first time a Sox player had three homers in a game since Kevin Millar (July 23, 2004).

Pedroia was the first player in baseball with a five-hit, three-homer night since Albert Pujols did it July 20, 2004, and Victor Martinez did it four days before that for the Indians. John Valentin also had five hits and three homers, June 3, 1995 for the Red Sox, and we remember Fred Lynn’s five-hit, three-homer, 10-RBI night June 18, 1975.

“I’ve been feeling good lately,’’ deadpanned Pedroia. “I’ve been hitting the ball all over the place, so tonight I got good pitches to hit and I didn’t miss them.’’

He said he had never hit three homers in a game at any level, even Little League, though he quipped “I hit some bombs, don’t kid yourself.’’

Francona and Pedroia are constantly kidding one another. There aren’t two individuals any closer on the team.

“That was unbelievable,’’ Francona said. “That’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. That was Sandberg-esque.’’

Someday it will be referred to as Pedroia-esque because he’s beginning to redefine the word “clutch.’’ He’s starting to take on some of those Derek Jeter qualities that have been a trademark of the Yankee shortstop. There’s an expected level of excellence now. Even Francona said he wasn’t surprised that Pedroia won the game. And every time there’s a big moment, you expect Pedroia to rise to the occasion.

That can be a burden for many players. Ortiz ran it with it for years. Mo Vaughn before him. There’s that feeling when he comes to the plate that that’s the guy you want up in the toughest situation.

That’s what Pedroia gave the Red Sox last night.

He gave them clutch. He gave them ice water. He gave them MVP.

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