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He grabs games in the clutch

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 19, 2011

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BALTIMORE - The Red Sox’ butts were dragging.

No way around it.

Nobody felt like walking in the severe heat and humidity here, let alone play in it.

After 16 innings of grueling, exhausting baseball the night before at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and an arrival here at 6 yesterday morning, show time came fast.

And the player who always seems ready to take responsibility is Dustin Pedroia.

OK, this isn’t the first tribute we’ve paid Pedroia, and it won’t be the last. But you can’t help but love the way the second baseman plays the game, and he should be lauded for it.

He may not be the Sox’ captain, but he sets the same example.

When the situation calls for cranking it up a notch, here comes Pedroia. The team takes his lead, rides his coattails. Yes, he can carry the team on his back, and he’s been off the charts in that regard the last two nights.

He won the Sunday night/Monday morning game with a 16th-inning RBI single to right.

Last night, in a 7-7 game in the eighth, he doubled in two runs to break the tie and ignite an eight-run inning in Boston’s 15-10 win. Earlier, he knocked in Boston’s second run.

He wasn’t an All-Star this season, but whatever the Sox are paying him is a bargain, for there is no more valuable player on this team than Pedroia.

The Sox found that out last season, when they lost him to a broken foot and never replaced that energy.

Pedroia is hardly 100 percent, fighting off a knee issue that likely will bother him the rest of the season. He will deal with it and get through it, though, because he has the will to do so.

The littlest guy has the biggest heart.

“We didn’t have much sleep but we swung the bats really good,’’ Pedroia said. “We’re all happy we won and now we can get some rest.’’

When Pedroia stepped up in the eighth he faced sidearming righty Mark Worrell, who hadn’t appeared in a major league game since 2008 with the Cardinals and isn’t the easiest pitcher to stay with if you’re a righthanded hitter.

“I just try to see it the best I can,’’ he said of Worrell’s delivery. “He hides the ball and then he gets on you. It’s hard to get a ball in the air, which is what I’m trying to do there, and I’m just fortunate I was able to.’’

He broke a 0-0 deadlock the previous game, and last night did it with the score 7-7. It seems there’s no game Pedroia can’t break open.

“They were both not fun,’’ he said of the two tie situations. But we think he’s fibbing. We think he likes to be up in those cases, when something he does will make a difference. That’s because he’s a leader.

Both nights the big hit went to the opposite field. Pedroia swears it has not been by design.

“My approach is to try to hit it where it’s pitched,’’ he said. “Both balls were away. Just trying to put it in on the barrel of the bat. In that situation, you just have to calm down and try to have a good at-bat. I try to take the pressure off me and put it on the pitcher.’’

Oh, he does that. He has opposing pitchers shaking because there’s no scouting report that shows how to get him out when it counts the most.

While the media made a big deal out of the Sox’ travel schedule and how difficult it was, Pedroia said what we expected him to say about the situation: “We’re all trying to win a game. That’s what we get paid to do.’’

That’s the bottom line, and he’s right.

There’s no award for overcoming sleep deprivation to do your job the right way. It’s great if you can do it. Accept a pat on the back and know you did a fine job. But for Pedroia, these moments have become almost pedestrian. They are his trademark. He’s a superb defensive player who has made some eye-opening plays in the field all season. His intangibles are ridiculous.

The numbers don’t mean as much in describing Pedroia vs. other players, but even those are good now. His average is a season-high .295. He’s hit in 16 straight games. He’s reached safely in 28 straight games, 27 containing hits. The 28 games is the longest active streak in the majors.

“Pedey’s at-bat was huge,’’ said Francona. “He broke it open and we kept it going on a night when we didn’t have [several pitchers available]. That’s a tough way to play.’’

Added Francona, “I think I’ve said it a million times about Pedey; just stand out of his way and let him play.’’

And let him win.

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

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