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Two of a kind at second base

Pedroia and Cano among new elite

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 8, 2010

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Red Sox and Yankees fans used to spend hours arguing which shortstop was better, Nomar Garciaparra or Derek Jeter. The hot question has now shifted to the right side of the infield. Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano?

As the old rivals opened a three-game series at Fenway Park last night, it was with their second basemen leading the way. Pedroia started the night hitting .303 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs over 29 games. Cano was hitting .362 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 27 games.

Along with Philadelphia star Chase Utley, Pedroia and Cano are the best second basemen in the game right now.

“There are two outstanding second basemen in this series,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Both do a lot, a lot of things right. Offensively, defensively, running the bases. They’re both exciting players to watch. I’m sure there are a lot of comparisons.’’

Cano has been overshadowed by his more famous teammates since being called up in 2005. But he has become a focal point this season, hitting fifth in the lineup.

“He’s a special player and he’s showing how good he really is,’’ Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “This isn’t a fluke. It is a hot streak but he’s this good.

“I think he’s having better at-bats. Every now and then, young players give away at-bats. Over a long season, that can be the difference between really good numbers and OK numbers. He’s not giving away any at-bats right now and he’s doing a lot of damage.’’

The youngest member of a stellar infield, the 27-year-old Cano has plenty of mentors to turn to in Jeter, Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez.

“I feel that helps,’’ Teixeira said. “Any player who’s around All-Stars and professional hitters like Alex and Derek are going to get better as long as they observe. Robbie wants to get better and he’s always talking to those guys.’’

Pedroia helped keep the Red Sox afloat through a rocky first month, showing surprising power. His 17 extra-base hits ranked fourth in the American League entering yesterday.

“He’s carried us in a lot of ways,’’ first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “It’s what we expect from him. He’s that kind of player.’’

Pedroia is a more patient hitter than Cano, but both take big swings and have shown the ability to catch up to high fastballs.

“He’s on another level, man,’’ Pedroia said. “He’s fun to watch. I’d definitely pay to go watch him hit. I think everyone has seen it. He hits any pitch. His swing, there’s really not a flaw in it. He hits any pitch to any part of their field.’’

Cano returned the compliment, saying Pedroia is a player he admires.

“That guy, he plays hard every play,’’ Cano said. “He’s somebody you can look at and try to copy. I think he’s a great player. If you compare me to him, I’ll take that.’’

Pedroia has been a better defensive player than Cano, but that gap is closing as Cano has eliminated most of the mental lapses he was once guilty of.

Cano had a rocky game last night, striking out against Josh Beckett in his first two at-bats before getting hit on the left knee by a Beckett fastball in the sixth inning. He tried to stay in the game, hobbling to first base. But after two pitches, he was replaced by Ramiro Pena.

“You could hear it when it hit him,’’ teammate Nick Swisher said.

Cano does not have any structural damage, but the swelling could keep him out for a few days.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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