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Red Sox 7, Orioles 4

Pedroia is spot-on again

Another key hit helps Red Sox beat Orioles

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 2, 2008
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It clearly doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if Dustin Pedroia hits second or fourth or first. Wherever he is in the batting order, he seems to produce. It might be hits or runs or RBIs. He is always, always, in the middle of the fray these days.

Though it was Coco Crisp's two-out single to center field that broke a tie in the sixth inning - what would become a decisive four-run sixth inning - it was Pedroia's line single to right that provided the eventual winning run for the Sox, as they beat Baltimore, 7-4, last night at Fenway Park.

That was where he was last night, No. 2 in the order, and ready once again to lead the Sox to a win behind a solid outing from starter Paul Byrd. Despite allowing three home runs, all of them solo, Byrd left the Sox in perfect position to win - behind solo homers of their own from Jason Varitek and Jeff Bailey, behind contributions from Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie and Crisp. And, of course, behind that dagger from Pedroia.

There's no escaping those "MVP" chants, now is there, Dustin? Who else can bring a crowd of 37,565 to his feet with a stolen base, this one coming with the Sox up two in the eighth inning?

"This guy, in my opinion, is the MVP of the league," Byrd said. Then later, he added, "As he goes, we go."

Asked what he thought of the award nod, Pedroia said, "He said that?" The second baseman smiled. "That's a great compliment from him."

But in a game in which Pedroia said the team "kind of came out a little flat," the Sox didn't let the win get away. As to why the team came out flat, it had to do with the White Sox being in over the weekend. It was the day game the day before. It's something that happens from time to time, at the same time that it measures a team by its ability to win in those situations. As the Red Sox did last night, despite managing to leave 12 men on base.

They won, thanks certainly, to their four-run sixth. With the Sox down by a run, Bay lofted a one-out ground rule double to right-center field. That was followed by a Lowrie double to left that didn't quite elicit the defensive prowess of Jay Payton, but it did tie the score at 3-3. After Varitek grounded out, Bailey walked, and Crisp came through with that RBI single to score Lowrie. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with an infield single that loaded the bases.

"They've been walking a lot of guys," said Bailey of a staff that walked 10 last night (two intentional), including five by starter Garrett Olson. "They walked a lot of guys tonight. That's something where you've got to go up there and be patient, look for your pitch rather than chasing theirs."

After that, well, it wasn't really fair. Coming in from the Baltimore bullpen, Dennis Sarfate faced the American League's top batter with the bases loaded. And, surprising no one in the crowd and certainly not himself, Pedroia lined a single over the infield and into right field. It scored two runs - Nick Markakis bobbled it for an error, allowing Pedroia to take second - and placed the second baseman's name in the record books.

The single was the 184th hit for Pedroia this season, a team record for a second baseman.

"Pedey's rear end's going one way, the bat head's going another, he sends a bullet to right," manager Terry Francona said. "He just has an amazing knack for getting the barrel to the ball."

But, as Pedroia never fails to mention, the important part was extending the lead to three runs. And the Sox would need it.

Byrd had already given up two solo homers, one over everything in the first inning ("Adam Jones, we'll pick that one up on the way home," Francona said), and the other to left by Juan Castro in the third. He gave up another run in the sixth, when Castro came home on a Markakis single, though Byrd also managed to get Luke Scott on a fly ball to right to leave the bases loaded.

The Sox, meanwhile, started their run support with their 11th back-to-back home runs of the season, the first coming from Varitek, the second from Bailey, in the second inning. They tacked on another insurance run, scored by Pedroia of course, in the eighth.

The Sox have now won the first game of their last four series, and five of their last six. Not a bad way to set a tone, especially as it left them five games back of the idle Rays in the American League East, and three ahead of the White Sox and Twins (tied for the Central lead) in the wild card race.

"That's huge," Pedroia said. "The guys we have on this team now, we're all baseball players. We're out here to win games. Nobody cares what their performance is, it's us. It's been fun. Man, the last month's been a great time."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com

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