SEATTLE -- When the Boston Red Sox needed someone to step up and take charge Sunday, they turned to a guy who has spent most of his career doing just that.
Dustin Pedroia shook the offense out of its doldrums with a game-tying home run in the eighth inning against previously invulnerable Seattle Mariners starter Jason Vargas, then singled the eventual winning run to third base in the 10th as the Sox escaped Seattle with a 10-inning, 2-1 win Sunday, good for a split of the four-game series.
"When Dustin solved Vargas for that home run, that was huge for us,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. "And that hit he got in the 10th inning was a big one too.’’
Pedroia’s single moved Ryan Kalish, who had doubled off Brandon League as a pinch-hitter, to third base. The situation was anything but secure, however, because the Red Sox would come out of the four-game series with just three hits in 27 at-bats with men in scoring position.
They didn’t get a hit this time either, but they did get was another winning performance from Big Papi. David Ortiz, the Red Sox’s lone All-Star, followed with a fly ball deep enough to right that Ichiro Suzuki couldn't challenge Kalish’s dash home, the sacrifice fly giving the Red Sox the margin of victory.
"They played well,’’ Ortiz said of the Mariners. "We’re happy to get a split. They pitched extremely well.’’
Pedroia wouldn’t go so far as to say he was happy to get a split. He was happy to get anything that wasn’t caught. Before the home run, he was 1-for-15 in the series. This has been a tough season for Pedroia, to be sure, but this was shaping up to be the grimmest series of the season to date.
"It felt like they had 50 outfielders and lots of infielders,’’ Pedroia said. "I finally put a good swing on one.
"Vargas knows how to pitch. He did a really good job; we didn’t do much against him the first eight innings.’’
Boston came into the series on a roll, having won nine of its previous 11 games. But for the most part, the Seattle pitching staff put the clamps on the Sox, with three of the four games coming down to the final at-bat.
"We finally put some pressure on them,’’ Pedroia said. "That [Kalish double] put the pressure on, and when I got the hit, that got the runner to third base. Then David put a great at-bat together. They played us very tough. It wasn’t easy to win two games here.’’
Things haven’t been easy for Pedroia all season. He has played much of 2012 with a thumb that, for another player, might require either surgery or extended rest. Neither of those options appeals to Pedroia, so he plays on, even though his production (.265, six homers, 32 RBIs) is far below his norm.
He’d gone 40 games between home runs, and his last homer came so long ago (May 10) that Pedroia said he couldn’t remember anything about it other than it went to the opposite field.
This one didn’t. With the Red Sox just five outs away from being shut out for the second time in the series, Pedroia’s line drive cleared the left-field scoreboard -- not by much, but by enough.
"That was a big swing by Pedroia for us right there,’’ Valentine said.
Pedroia, who has a history of getting home runs in bunches, was asked if this might be the start of something big.
"I can hope so,’’ he said. "We’ll see."