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Playing his cards right

Pedroia is pegged as key component

The cribbage games with the manager have gone from pregame ritual to full-blown superstition, especially now that the Red Sox have advanced to the World Series.

"It's not me, he's superstitious," said Dustin Pedroia, referring to the card game he has waged since April with manager Terry Francona. "He's got some issues."

Asked to confirm that he has become the manager's sacrificial lamb, as Francona has portrayed him, Pedroia's competitive streak came out.

"No, I win most of them," he said. "He's just . . . I don't know."

"But Tito says he crushes you," Pedroia was told.

"Yeah," cracked the second baseman. "He says a lot of things."

"Wasn't it poor form to beat the manager?" Pedroia was asked.

"Absolutely not," he shot back. "I hope he loses every cribbage game possible."

It started in April.

"I think he was bored," Pedroia said. "I'd get here early and try to lift weights and stuff, because I'm not very big, and he pulls me in there to play cribbage and I'm like, man, leave me alone."

Although Pedroia may talk a big cribbage game, the 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pounder has played big all season long - including in the postseason. Echoing statements in this sports-crazed town by Doug Flutie, Tiny Archibald, and Brian Gionta, Pedroia said, "You don't have to be big to play this game."

"I've played this game a long time, since I've been 4 years old," said the 24-year-old Pedroia, who grew up in Woodland, Calif., idolizing the Giants and Barry Bonds, the 49ers, and the Sacramento Kings. "Size isn't an issue. It is the first month of every level I go to, but after that, that's about it."

It was no different, Pedroia said, when he was promoted in 2006 from Triple A Pawtucket during September's call-up.

"Aw man, everyone writes about something," he said. "Everyone gets bored and starts writing, 'He's 5-2 and needs to go.' We're all playing the same game and we're playing hard. I don't think size is any problem. I mean, David Eckstein, he was the World Series MVP, wasn't he? So I don't think size has anything to do with it."

So, by his own exaggerated dimensions, how big was he?

"I don't know, man," he said.

Then, turning the question on one of the many reporters surrounding his locker, Pedroia asked, "How tall do you think I am?"

Answer: "About 5-9 - Doug Flutie."

"Yeah, Flutiemania," Pedroia said, shaking his head.

Ever since his promotion last season, Pedroia has carried himself with an air of confidence at the plate and in the field.

"I think with a lot of players, even if they struggle, to get that first month out of the way and then go home in the winter, come back to spring training, and they're not the new kid on the block," Francona said. "They know everybody. They know where they're supposed to go. They know what's expected of them. Even when you don't experience success, I still think it's good for you."

Although he may have experienced some self-doubt when he hit .182 for the first month this season, Pedroia left no doubt about his worth, finishing up at .317, proving himself a large component of the Sox' offense.

But, funny thing is, after the first game of the Division Series sweep of the Angels, Pedroia was feeling anything but confident after he went 0 for 4.

"It's tough when you got 3-4 days off to think about a game that lasted three hours," Pedroia said. "It's a lot of time to think, instead of playing it every day and just going out there and not having time to think or worry about what situations are going to pop up. So once we kept playing and got it going, I was fine."

Pedroia came out of his mini-funk by tearing a double off Kelvim Escobar in Game 2. He had another double in the clinching Game 3 in Anaheim, Calif., and after a slow start against Cleveland in the ALCS, went 7 for 13 in the final three games.

In Sunday night's 11-2 victory in Game 7, Pedroia displayed power when he broke open a 3-2 game with a two-run homer in the seventh, then drove in three more runs with a bases-loaded double in the eighth. He hit .345 in the ALCS, going 10 for 29 with eight runs and 16 total bases.

"Dustin's been there all year," said catcher Jason Varitek. "He, like a lot of other people in this lineup, struggled at some point this year and his was early. He got through it and we found out who Dustin Pedroia is. He's a huge spark for this team. Defensively, offensively, he's been a huge, huge part of this team."

Now that the Sox are in the World Series, Pedroia no doubt will continue to play an even larger role as his superstitious manager's foe in cribbage.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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