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Pedroia breaks out in a big way

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / September 14, 2011

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Jacoby Ellsbury might be having a better statistical season, but an argument could be made that as Dustin Pedroia goes, so go the Red Sox.

In desperate need of a slump-busting effort - personally and for his team - Pedroia put together the kind of game last night that took care of both. Tim Wakefield might be getting most of the credit today for finally recording career victory No. 200, and rightly so, but it was Pedroia’s bat that woke up a Sox team that was picking a dicey time to doze off.

Pedroia tied a career-high with five RBIs, hitting two home runs and going 4-for-5 in an 18-6 laugher over Toronto at Fenway Park. Coupled with Tampa Bay’s 4-2 loss to Baltimore, Boston’s lead in the AL wild-card race grew to four games. It also emphatically ended a five-game losing streak by the Sox.

“The last couple weeks it’s been tough. We’ve had a tough schedule, we haven’t got much sleep, but we’re at the time of the year where we all need to step up together and play winning baseball,’’ Pedroia said. “We played great tonight, but tomorrow we need to come out and find a way to win, that’s basically it. It’s getting close, so we need to figure it out.’’

They certainly did last night, with the 1-2 punch of Ellsbury and Pedroia at the top of the lineup carrying the Sox to a season-high run total. The duo combined for eight hits, including three doubles and three home runs. They each scored four times and drove in eight.

“Our job is to get on base and kind of wreak havoc,’’ Pedroia said. “[Ellsbury’s] season is unbelievable, he’s done everything. If we’re doing that I know our offense is really good.’’

Mired in a 3-for-34 slump coming into the game and without a home run since Sept. 1, Pedroia brought a .156 September average with him to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. He doubled off Brandon Morrow, and scored on an error to put the Sox ahead.

After the Blue Jays went ahead with a three-run second inning and two-run third, Ellsbury and Pedroia put the Sox ahead to stay with back-to-back solo home runs in the fourth to make it 6-5 and put Wakefield in line for his milestone win.

A three-run shot by Pedroia in the sixth inning off Luis Perez made it 10-5, and the rout was on. He added another double in a seven-run eighth, which helped push his season average to .300.

Despite the month-long slide Pedroia had been on, there were recent signs that he was about to break free from it. Hard-hit balls on a 1-6 road trip were being caught, but good swings were being made, his confidence growing. It seemed like only a matter of time before the balls he was hitting would start falling.

Or, in last night’s case, start soaring, twice into the Monster seats. With a career-best 20 home runs now, he becomes just the seventh Sox player with at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Ellsbury (27 homers, 36 steals) has also done it this season.

“I think Pedey’s taken it upon himself where he knows, that’s the type of player he is,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He’s been trying to do that for the last week. He swung at some good pitches tonight and he drove the ball.

“He’s a little guy, but I bet you he’ll put us on his shoulders for a few days.’’

Asked about trying to carry his team, Pedroia took a more modest approach.

“I was just trying to have a good game and help us win,’’ he said.

One victory, Pedroia was quick to point out, doesn’t mean much if it can’t be backed up, especially with so many important games for the Sox down the stretch. After this afternoon’s game with Toronto, Tampa visits for four. There’s also one more series in New York with the Yankees.

“We’ve got 15 games left and we’re up four now, and we play [the Rays] four times. And we play the Yankees, so we’re playing good teams in our division,’’ Pedroia said. “We’re all taking it like it’s the playoffs now, so we’ll see what we’ve got.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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