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Swagger after his daggers

Pedroia's homer the high point in a 5-RBI effort

It might not have had the grace of a dancer's jeté, or the practiced smoothness of a Tiger Woods fist pump. But the kick-step and salute of Dustin Pedroia as he high-fived first base coach Luis Alicea and rounded the bag conveyed not only the joy of bringing the Red Sox two runs closer to the World Series with a home run, it showed the release provided by making a big swing and getting a big hit in a big moment.

Pedroia tagged a two-run homer in the seventh inning last night that sent the Sox to a 5-2 lead and an eventual 11-2 win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series over the Indians. And with it came that trip to the Series.

Pedroia, swagger displayed in every step and every word, thinks he can hit any pitcher at any time. He believes he can will himself to do so, whether or not that's true. And that includes facing the nearly perfect Rafael Betancourt, who had given up just one hit in 6 1/3 innings in the ALCS before last night.

"Amazing," reliever Mike Timlin said. "It was like a nail in their coffin to us. We're standing out in the bullpen, and he hit it, and it kind of summarizes Boston right there. He's a small guy, never says die, plays hard all the time. He's a Boston Red Sox."

Pedroia wasn't done, though. He added a three-run bases-loaded double to left-center off Betancourt in the eighth that truly put the game out of reach.

The second baseman who manager Terry Francona twice called a "winning player" in his postgame remarks really turned Fenway Park into a party with the double, and garnered a standing ovation when he hit second, his fifth RBI of the night having just crossed the plate.

Of the homer, Pedroia said, "I hit it good, and the wind was kind of blowing out to center and it kind of started pushing it, so I was like, 'Geez, don't hit the top of the fence.'

"Once it went out, man, I was so excited and had so much adrenaline going on, I don't even remember running around the bases to tell you the truth. I just got around there.

"It was the biggest at-bat of my life, and I'll never forget it."

Though Pedroia had started relatively slowly in this ALCS, he finished the series with a .345 average, with the giant home run and the huge double, both hits coming against a pitcher who had allowed a .170 average to righties during the regular season.

Pedroia had three hits last night, his first a line drive single to left leading off the first inning. He scored three times, his top-of-the-order skills translating into important runs for the Sox as they fought past the Indians and toward the Rockies.

But his greatest achievement might not even have been the swing that launched the Betancourt pitch over the Wall. It might have been surviving the massive bear hug by David Ortiz with which he was greeted upon his return to home plate. Ortiz, who usually gets the credit for such home run dramatics, lifted the second baseman up off his feet and into postseason celebrity status.

"David's helped me out a ton, with hitting," said Pedroia, who spent the first month of his rookie season in a deep slump. "I remember in April we sat in the cage for an hour one day trying to figure everything out.

"I've been through a lot. Everyone's been through a lot. That's why we're a team. It's special. It's a special time right now."

Over the first four games of the series he had just three singles and one walk.

That all changed as the Red Sox became desperate, the Indians just one win away from ending the series. It all changed when it mattered.

Pedroia went 2 for 4 with a double and a single in Game 5, and reached three times in the first three innings of Game 6 - single, double, walk - both games elimination affairs.

But, thanks in part to Pedroia, Cleveland never put the Sox away.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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