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Second baseman could help team find its second wind

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 18, 2010

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There aren’t many more significant personnel moves that can be made.

Dustin Pedroia returning to the Red Sox lineup is as good as it’s going to get. The fans, the media, the players, and management know it. This is the biggie, and if this one doesn’t work, the Sox likely will remain a third-place team.

Of all the setbacks this team has endured since April, the loss of Pedroia was the worst. Without him, the Sox don’t play defense as well, don’t have quite the same emotion on the field, and don’t seem to be able to come up with the big play at precisely the right time, which has been the signature trait of the Pedroia years.

“It was great to be back, and it felt good out there,’’ said Pedroia, who went 0 for 4 and made an error in the Sox’ 6-0 win over the Angels last night. “It was fun being part of a win.

“It wasn’t good on my part — my timing is a bit off — but it felt good to be back and do all the things I needed to do.’’

“It’s great to get Pedey back,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who has been sidelined by thumb surgery. “He’s already running his mouth, which is a good thing. When he’s running his mouth, great things happen.’’

Pedroia received a nice ovation when he came up in the first inning against Angels righthander Jered Weaver.

He had faced only one righty during his rehab stint at Pawtucket, “so it’s a little bit different facing one righthander in two months and then facing Jered Weaver,’’ said Pedroia. “I mean, he’s leading the league in strikeouts.

“You can’t really simulate a guy like that. There’s not too many guys that have that kind of stuff there.’’

Weaver wasn’t his usual self, allowing six runs (including two homers) over five innings, but he managed to get his old pal Pedroia out three times.

“I hadn’t played in I don’t know how long and he’s throwing me a changeup,’’ said Pedroia. “I’ve got to get on him about that.’’

Pedroia tries to hide his emotions when he can, but when asked about returning, he said, “I’ve played a lot of games here but I’ve never been hurt before. So I’m just excited to be in there. It feels like the first game of the year for me. So I just want to do all I can to help us tonight.’’

In the first inning, he took a borderline third strike on a fastball on the outside part of the plate. In the third, with Marco Scutaro at second base after a double, he grounded to the pitcher to end the inning.

Pedroia made a nice double play in the second inning when he tagged Hideki Matsui going from first to second on a ground ball hit by Erick Aybar. In the fifth, though, he threw wildly to first while trying to turn a double play with Mike Napoli bearing down on him and was charged with an error. He grounded out in the fifth and popped to center in the seventh.

“I had to run hard down the line on that ground ball to shortstop, so that was a test for me and it felt good,’’ said Pedroia. “On the double play grounder, I went down, but that was good to get tested like that. I think it was good to experience that.’’

Nobody is expecting miracles from Pedroia, who rushed his recovery to the point where he almost reinjured the foot. Doctors finally put the fear in him that he could jeopardize the season and his career. So he scaled back enough to let the foot heal.

Last night, the rust showed, offensively and defensively.

He said he needed to “find things out on the fly,’’ but he didn’t sound like someone who wanted a lot of time off. He said he would be “ready to go’’ tonight.

“I don’t think I’m going to be 100 percent the rest of the way, but I don’t think it really matters,’’ said Pedroia. “It’s good enough to where that bone won’t break off, knock on wood.’’

He knows that the Sox need to make one more big run. Last night was the start of a nine-game homestand, and the Sox need to dominate — as in 7-2, 8-1, or 9-0.

“We’ve got 43 games left, and I think everyone’s hoping that we get on a run and get in there,’’ said Pedroia.

Is he confident that the Sox can pull this off?

“Yeah — heck, yeah,’’ he said. “We play the people in front of us a lot more times. So if we play well, we’re going to get in.’’

Pedroia went down in June, in the same series in which Victor Martinez was hurt, against the Giants. Martinez came back a lot sooner from a broken thumb.

“Yeah, it’s tough,’’ Pedroia said. “We were playing good ball. I got hurt, Victor. We all got hurt at the same time. So, that part was tough. But you see how Victor impacted the lineup right away. So, hopefully, I can do that.’’

Pedroia, who was MVP of the American League two years ago, tried to downplay his return, but there was no way he could.

“I’m just one of the guys,’’ he said. “I don’t think anybody’s thinking, ‘Oh, Dustin’s back playing, we’re going to win every single game.’

“I’m just one of the guys trying to help us win. Everyone is valued the same on our team. We got a lot of guys that mean a lot to our team. Hopefully, I can just give us another boost to help us win games.’’

Pedroia didn’t have to do much last night, as Clay Buchholz handcuffed the Angels. In fact, he would tell you he did very little. But he was in the lineup. That was the boost the team needed.

If this doesn’t work, nothing will.

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

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