On Baseball

Pedroia’s spark has lit a fire

Team can feed off leader’s contagious energy, grit

By Nick Cafardo
April 11, 2011

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Robinson Cano might be the better hitter and have more range at second base.

There may be second basemen, such as Dan Uggla, who will hit more home runs.

But at the end of the day, who can you count on the most?

Who is the one you call a “ballplayer?’’

It’s Dustin Pedroia.

The Red Sox take on his energy and persona. He swings hard, plays hard, fields hard, and if you can’t feed off his energy, then you have no pulse.

Pedroia stroked three hits — all singles — last night, drew an intentional walk in front of Adrian Gonzalez, and turned a nice double play in the third inning on the speedy Brett Gardner. Pedroia fielded a grounder, touched second, and got enough on his throw to get Gardner, one of the fastest men in baseball, at first.

Pedroia’s leadoff single in the third led to Boston’s first run, which held up until Marco Scutaro doubled in a pair in the seventh.

He has been a laser show at the plate, and in the field he’s been so steady and precise.

Forget the team meetings and the Theo and Tito chats with the team. The guy who can get everyone to flip the switch or click into that extra gear is Pedroia.

“He’s been willing himself to help us win games. That’s no surprise,’’ said manager Terry Francona.

Who was most upset about Boston’s 0-6 start? Who challenged the fans to get behind the team when it returned to Fenway? It was Pedroia. Pedroia said that last day in Cleveland that he takes the game home with him because it’s a big part of his life. It’s his livelihood and he wasn’t about to have an 0-6 start ruin what he thinks this team is going to do in the long term.

The Red Sox took two of three from the Yankees thanks to a 4-0 win last night. Pedroia was the centerpiece.

“I’m just trying to play at the highest level I can play at and hopefully we’ll all do that and start turning this thing around,’’ Pedroia said.

The one injury absence the team could not survive last season was Pedroia. When he broke his foot last June, the team lost its heart and soul, a player impossible to replace. Certain players just exude charisma and leadership. And while Jason Varitek still wears the “C’’ on his jersey, Pedroia is the de facto captain and leader of this team and everyone knows it.

You think he didn’t take it personally that the Sox started out so badly? You think he didn’t want to come home and turn around the fortunes of this team by beating the Yankees?

“Yeah, we’re just going to come out and play,’’ he said. “In the sixth inning I was looking up at the board out there and we’re like four games out now with 153 to go, so that’s the reality of everything: just come out tomorrow and play good baseball. Josh [Beckett] was unbelievable today. That was pretty darn good.’’

Pedroia had eight assists last night and seemed to be in the middle of the action. He tried to ignite the Sox with a one-out single in the first inning, but after Kevin Youkilis’s single sent him to third, the Sox stranded a pair (finishing with 16 left on base). But it set the tone against the very tough CC Sabathia that the Sox meant business.

In the third, Pedroia ignited another rally, leading off with a single and scoring the first run. Then in the sixth, he singled again with two outs, putting a runner in scoring position. And in the seventh, Pedroia was walked intentionally by lefty Boone Logan to set up a bases-loaded, two-out situation for Gonzalez (though Gonzalez flied out).

Pedroia has been beside himself during the team’s struggles. He claimed he didn’t feed off the negativity the past 10 days, instead preferring to keep a steady approach and trust what the front office had built.

“I think everybody knows what type of team we have. The expectations . . . everybody told us how good we were and then we go to Texas and they punch us right in the mouth and so we have to respond to it. The only thing we can do is go out and play and that’s it. Not really dwelling on the negativity.’’

Pedroia cares about what goes on around him. He was thrilled by Scutaro’s two-run double in the seventh that gave the Sox insurance.

“Scutaro’s hit was a big hit, not just for him, but for us,’’ he said. “A big spot in the game and kind of blew it open a little bit. The way we were pitching that’s all we needed.’’

Pedroia hopes the corner can be turned and that prosperity can finally surface.

“They’re not going to scuffle all year,’’ said Pedroia about his teammates. “Like Carl [Crawford] tonight. He went 0 for 5 and he hit four balls on the screws. You don’t hit the ball like that all year and don’t get rewarded. We’ll all relax and settle in.

“We have to do a lot of things better. We have to swing the bats good, and play better defense. You don’t start out 1-7 and not need to do things better.’’

This weekend we witnessed two special second basemen. Pedroia claims there’s no competition between him and Cano but acknowledges, “I don’t really like it when he comes on to hit. I’d like to skip him in the order a couple of times. He’s special man. He’s a special talent.’’

But Pedroia is a special ballplayer.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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