EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 31, 2009

Time for Pedroia to take over Red Sox


On Pro Baseball

Bill Burt

BOSTON — Dustin Pedroia, your team needs you. No, I mean your team really needs you.

That's a lot to ask a "kid" who turns 26 on Aug. 17, but I'm guessing he can handle it.

There's a reason Pedroia was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2008, with "pedestrian" numbers — .326 average, 17 home runs, 83 RBIs.

He's special.

You can't quantify his game by statistical analysis. There is not a statistical category for hustle or dirty uniforms. There is not a statistical category for hitting a solo homer in the first inning when your team appears to be dead and buried in a playoff series. There is not a statistical analysis for mental toughness.

Thankfully, enough people took notice and overlooked the numbers. He truly was the best of the best in 2008.

But now we are in 2009 and the Red Sox are a mess.

David Ortiz's abuse of performance enhancing drugs is the cherry on top. Daisuke Matsuzaka's whining about his season and the Red Sox's pitching program is lingering. So is the Red Sox offense, which is as weak as these eyes have seen since Ortiz began his assault here in 2003.

Combine that with the New York Yankees clicking on all cylinders, much to my surprise, and the Red Sox need a quick rebound from the abyss they find themselves in.

Enter Pedroia.

He has done everything that has been asked. While his batting average and run production are down a smidgen from a year ago, he has done his job.

Well, more is needed. They need a player to step up and do more, on and off the field.

Kevin Youkilis, who, like Pedroia, would chew on broken glass if it meant winning a baseball game, just doesn't have the personality. He's a worker. He just doesn't have "the leader" look.

Pedroia does.

He's got opinions about everything. He is funny, at least when he wants to be. And everybody that comes in contact with him watches in amazement.

It's asking a lot of a 25-year-old, third-year player, to take the controls but somebody has to. Manager Terry Francona's talent is managing people. The Red Sox need someone who isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty to make sure everybody who is wearing a uniform is complying with the Red Sox Way.

As I intimated yesterday, the Sox look lifeless. And until Ortiz surprisingly smashed that three-run homer in the seventh inning, it appeared to be as bad as it gets.

The trade deadline is today. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is going to make a deal of some substance. If it's not for Toronto's Roy Halladay it will probably be for San Diego's slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Either one will add spice to this team.

But spice and a few extra homers or complete games aren't enough. The Red Sox need a chief, an on-the-field chief.

Sure, Jason Varitek wears the "C" for captain, but his value is handling pitchers.

The Red Sox need Pedroia to take this team and lead it now. He can do it. He had better do it.

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E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.