Print and Go Back ESPN.com: ESPNBoston [Print without images]

Friday, June 17, 2011
Pedroia a buzz killer for Brewers

By Steven Krasner
Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- If you blinked, you might have missed the most important play in the Red Sox's 10-4 interleague victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at Fenway Park.

It happened so quickly that from many in the sellout crowd of 37,833, there were questions, such as "What just happened?" and "How did that happen?"

Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia had the answers.

Actually, it was Pedroia's cat-like reflexes and lightning-quick glove that offered all the answers, contributing to a rally-deflating double play in the third inning that helped propel John Lackey and the surging Red Sox to their 12th win in the past 13 games.

Dustin Pedroia
"The guy can play the game. He's fun to have behind you for sure," pitcher John Lackey said about Dustin Pedroia (above).

Pedroia later made another Gold Glove-worthy play up the middle, but it was his stop of the smash hit by Casey McGehee with none out and the bases filled in the third inning that had jaws dropping all over Fenway and compliments flowing from the Red Sox and Milwaukee clubhouses.

To set the stage:

The Brewers already had one run in, cutting their deficit to 4-3, on three well-placed singles and a line-drive RBI single to right by Prince Fielder. That hit left the bases loaded with none out, and Lackey's pitch count was climbing.

McGehee scorched a hopper that seemed destined to zip into right field for at least one run, if not two, still with none out. But Pedroia took a step to his left, dove for the ball and managed to glove it despite a higher-than-normal hop. He quickly stopped his momentum, pivoted on his knees and threw a strike to shortstop Marco Scutaro at second base. Scutaro's relay throw to first easily nailed McGehee.

Milwaukee scored the tying run on the play, but the Brewers seemed to deflate like a pin-pricked balloon after Pedroia's larceny. Lackey, given the reprieve, found his groove, retiring 15 in a row, beginning with McGehee, and 16 of his final 17 in an eight-inning performance that evened his record at 5-5.

While Lackey was mixing his pitches and getting the Brewers to ground out (10 of those 15 consecutive outs came on ground balls), the Red Sox offense came to life despite losing two regulars -- Carl Crawford (left hamstring) and Kevin Youkilis (stomach illness). Adrian Gonzalez (3-for-4) snapped the 4-all tie with a homer in the fifth, and Boston kept on pounding, with eight players recording at least one RBI in the 14-hit attack.

But it was Pedroia's defensive play that swung the tide in Boston's favor. Pedroia is a former American League rookie of the year, and he was the league's MVP in 2008, thanks in large measure to his offensive skills, but he also can throw the leather with the best of them.

"That was the biggest play of the game," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That would have been a couple of runs, and maybe [the Brewers would have had] second and third with no outs. That's the way Pedey plays. I don't think anybody else makes those plays [including the play up the middle on Jonathan Lucroy's grounder in the fourth]."

"That play was huge," catcher Jason Varitek chimed in. "John [Lackey] has had some things not go his way [bloop hits, seeing-eye singles], and finally he had something go his way."

Certainly Lackey, who has won all three of his starts since leaving the disabled list, was appreciative.

"He's the best," Lackey said of Pedroia, who left the clubhouse and was not available after the game to talk about his play.

"The guy can play the game. He's fun to have behind you for sure. That double-play ball got me out of the third and helped move the game in the right direction. I don't think I made that good a pitch [to McGehee], but any time a ball's going Pedey's way, you've got a chance. The guy's pretty good," said Lackey, who threw 58 pitches over the first three innings but only 53 more over his final five.

Pedroia has impressed Gonzalez, who shares the right side of the infield.

"He does an incredible job. He's been doing that all season," Gonzalez said. "He gets to a lot of balls. He's able to get a good jump, and he makes a lot of diving plays."

On the pivotal play Friday night, Scutaro said he wasn't able to get a good look at it from his vantage point at shortstop. But he has played with Pedroia long enough to know that if Pedroia has half a chance at a ball, it's not going through the right side.

"If it's close to him, he'll catch it," Scutaro said. "The hardest part of this one was catching the ball because it was hit so hard. If he catches the ball, I know we have a chance for two because the ball was hit hard and [McGehee] is not a particularly fast runner. It was a great play. A key play. That helps out the pitcher. They love double plays."

McGehee, meanwhile, almost couldn't believe what he was seeing as he took a step or two out of the batter's box. He knew he hit the ball well, but the baseball died in Pedroia's glove.

"I knew Pedroia was a good player. You don't win an MVP award if you're not a good player," McGehee said. "Obviously everyone knows he can hit the ball, but tonight the way he played defense, his ability at second base, really impressed me."

And helped the Red Sox stay red hot in the process.

Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.