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Monday, April 1, 2013
Fiery Pedroia hopes to spark fans' support

By Gordon Edes

NEW YORK -- It was late one night last week when Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who hasn’t exactly rushed to embrace social media, took to Twitter. He’d forgotten about the 140-character limit, he said, but his message showed up anyway, on something called tmi.me.

“Only thing I ask is u believe now! Don’t jump on later. Boston doesn’t have bandwagon fans! It’s going to be special and we want the city to make a huge advantage all year for us. Get loud! Thx everyone let’s go.’’ -- A tweet by @15Lasershow



So what prompted that appeal?

“I was just fired up, man,’’ he said. “They were making fun of Will.’’

He gestured to third baseman Will Middlebrooks, sitting at the locker beside him. “People were harassing, just the [typical] ‘You guys stink,’’’ Pedroia said. “One guy was getting all over me. ‘You stink.’ That was it.

“I try to motivate,’’ he said to his inquisitor. “My job is to motivate. How did I do? Did I motivate you?’’

Well, yes, if a retweet during a middle-of-the-night bathroom run constitutes the desired response.

“I did my job,’’ Pedroia proclaimed.

Dustin Pedroia
While the Red Sox were playing out the string last season, Dustin Pedroia was playing with a fractured finger.
Well, then, perhaps he could take it one step further, and make his case for why Red Sox fans should believe in this team after the double-barreled disappointment of a late-season collapse in 2011, followed by a wire-to-wire fiasco in 2012.

“We’ve got to go play,’’ he shot back. “I don’t have to make any cases. I’m not running for mayor. We’ve got to go play good, man. Play good. That’s it, man. Win games.’’

And what makes you think this team will win?

“Belief in your teammates and the guys,’’ he said. “That’s it, you know. It’s a long season. A lot of ups and downs, that’s all.’’

So what did you see this spring that makes you believe in your mates?

“Everything,’’ he said. “The way we went about our drills, the attention to detail on little things. That part gets you excited. Guys care.

“We’re excited to get started. We know it’s going to be a long year. Ups and downs. How are we going to hit that losing streak and get out of it? How are you going to respond? We feel like we’re going to respond real well to tough times. That’s what allows teams to take it to another level.’’

OK, but how do you feel about seemingly the entire world being dismissive of the team's chances this season? Of the 43 purported experts making predictions on ESPN.com, for example, only four picked the Sox to play in October, all as a wild-card entrant.

“You can’t read too much into that stuff,’’ he said. “The game’s played on the field, man. It’s not played on what insiders think or all that stuff. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to play, perform well and execute, and teams that do that the most are the teams that win.’’

(Note to self: Remember that Red Sox will play the “No one respected us” card this October if they do qualify for the tournament.)

Pause while Pedroia takes a call from his wife, Kelly. (“I've got to make sure Dylan didn’t jump off someplace,’’ Pedroia said, referring to his rambunctious son. “Dylan’s nuts.’’)

During this interlude, a little input from Jonny Gomes, one of eight major acquisitions (seven free agents, closer Joel Hanrahan by trade) the Sox made to recast this team. How is it going so far?

“I think we’re right where we need to be,’’ Gomes said. “I really do. I think we’ve got a little health [issue], you know, bang-ups with two guys, with Papi [David Ortiz] and [Stephen] Drew, but with that being said, it just shows how deep this organization is. It’s kind of rare. You’ve got big free-agent and big-trade organizations whose farm systems aren’t where they need it. They’re staring at the waiver wire, looking for last-minute help. We’ve got people from within. We’re right where we need to be.’’

You don’t suppose Gomes was thinking of the Yankees, who just picked up Lyle Overbay after he was cut by the Sox, do you?

Pedroia is wrapping things up with Kelly. Dad can relax. Dylan is being an angel. Enough time for a comment from the manager, John Farrell, when he is asked about diminished expectations.

"I don't know that guys pay too much attention to what's talked about on the outside,’’ the manager said. “We've got our own standard of expectations of play and what we hope to achieve and what we set out to achieve.

"We've got to concentrate on things we can control. How we play will hopefully change the outward expectation, but that's only a by-product. That's certainly not the driving force by any means."

Looking for a driving force, look no further than No. 15. “Littlest guy in baseball, and he’s the cockiest guy in the game,’’ marvelled Hanrahan, who could tuck Pedroia into the waistband of his XXL baseball pants.

Pedroia played much of last summer with a torn adductor muscle in his thumb before finally being forced to the disabled list in July. From July 19 on, Pedroia went .318/.372/.508/.880. While the team disintegrated, Pedroia may never have stood taller than the last two games of the season, when he played against the Yankees with a fractured finger.

What was the point? The Yanks were battling the Orioles for playoff position; Pedroia felt he owed it to the game to play. Orioles manager Buck Showalter texted him a message. J.J. Hardy, among other Orioles, expressed their gratitude and admiration.

“Pretty cool,’’ Pedroia said of hearing from Showalter. “Obviously I respect those guys so much. Just the way they play the game, do everything. You see the way they played all year. Jim Johnson had 50-something saves, he took the ball all the time. The year before, they were out of it. They still played baseball.

“You owe it to the game to go out and play. Whatever happens, happens.’’

In the past week, two face-of-the-franchise players, Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and Giants catcher Buster Posey, both signed historic contract extensions. The Sox have already broached the topic of an extension with Pedroia, who turns 30 in August and is signed through 2014 (club option for 2015). The question is not whether they will give Pedroia that extension, but when. Expect it sooner than later.

“If that team had 25 Pedroias,’’ one scout said this spring, “they would win every year.’’

Pedroia wants you to believe the Red Sox will win this year. He will not beg you to do so.

“I think fans in the city want to be proud of the team,’’ he said. “We didn’t play well the last few years. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, and obviously not for them, either.

“Hopefully we come out of the gate strong and get everybody behind us because this is the greatest place in the world to play, when you win baseball games in Boston. So we want to make sure they’re proud of this team.’’

It starts Monday afternoon in the Bronx. Pedroia will be the one whose uniform is dirty, by about the time they finish singing the anthem. Jump now ... don’t tweet later.