On this night, Sox bite matches bark
Led by feisty Pedroia, opportunistic team claws back to hit mid-point on high note
HOUSTON -- The Boston Red Sox reached the statistical halfway point of the season Friday night in their come-from-behind 7-5 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. They find themselves with the second-best record in the American League at 47-34, which leaves them 2 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.[+] EnlargeBob Levey/Getty ImagesDustin Pedroia says he doesn't recall what he yelled at umpire Laz Diaz as he was running down the first base line after ripping a game-tying single.
And what does this all mean? Was manager Terry Francona ready to offer an in-depth state-of-the-team analysis at the 81-game mark?
"It actually means nothing," Francona said after Friday night's win. "We're in the grind [of a season]. We bailed ourselves out [of a 2-10 start]. There's a long way to go."
One thing this team has shown it is capable of doing, though, is scratching and clawing for wins, even when the odds seem stacked against them. And one of their leaders in their grind-it-out personality is Dustin Pedroia.
He's a feisty and talented second baseman, and no one gets in a game more mentally and physically than Pedroia does.
Another case in point came in the seventh inning Friday night. The Sox, who had been held to one hit -- Marco Scutaro's leadoff homer -- by Bud Norris through six innings, began an uprising in the seventh, trying to mount a comeback from a 5-1 deficit.
By the time Pedroia batted with the bases loaded and one out, the Sox were losing, 5-3. Houston right-hander Wilton Lopez, one of the relievers in a Houston bullpen that is statistically the worst in the National League, fell behind Pedroia at 2-and-1.
Then he threw a fastball that Pedroia thought was low and outside. Plate umpire Laz Diaz called it a strike. So the count wasn't 3-and-1, with all the pressure on Lopez, but 2-and-2, giving him a little leeway and changing Pedroia's approach at the plate.
Pedroia barked at Diaz, who moved out from behind the plate and briefly exchanged words with the Sox second baseman.
The next pitch was in virtually the same spot as the previous pitch. Pedroia, knowing Diaz already had called that pitch a strike, reached out and slapped the ball on the ground. The bouncing ball went between first baseman Brett Wallace and the bag on its way to right field for a game-tying two-run single.
Pedroia, still fuming about Diaz's call, turned around as he was running down the first-base line and yelled at Diaz, who gave no outward response.
Adrian Gonzalez, the next batter, then rifled a double off the fence in left-center, delivering two more runs and giving the Sox a 7-5 lead that the bullpen made stand up.
After the game, when asked what he had yelled back at Diaz, Pedroia pleaded amnesia.
"I don't even remember what was going on," said Pedroia. "I'm out of my mind half the time."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/David J. PhillipAfter going 0 for 3 to start the game, Adrian Gonzalez capped the Boston rally with a go-ahead two-run double in the seventh.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, is the anti-Pedroia in on-field demeanor. He's quiet and doesn't move around in a frenetic manner. But he's an outstanding hitter, especially with runners on base. And even on a night when he struggles, Gonzalez can be counted on to deliver. Prior to his game-winning hit, Gonzalez had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a double-play grounder.
"Gonzie didn't really swing the bat [well] until we needed it," said Francona.
The two RBIs boosted Gonzalez's major-league-leading total to 73.
"He left a fastball in the middle of the plate and I was able to hit it in the air and get a double," Gonzalez said.
And the Sox, who have been struggling to score runs on this road trip, were able to take advantage of a bad team in claiming a win that improved their interleague slate to 8-8 and brought Boston's nine-game journey to a 3-4 mark with two more games left against the Astros, who have the worst record in the majors.
Certainly, there is much more baseball to be played this season, but the Sox have completed half the schedule and are in good position to earn a playoff berth.
"We're pretty good considering the start we got off to," said Friday night starter Tim Wakefield, who didn't have a good feel for his knuckleball and was tagged for 11 hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings.
"We fought our way back to a good position with 81 games left," he said.
"We've had our ups and downs," added Pedroia, who was a lot calmer after the game than he had been in the seventh inning. "We need to hit our stride and take off. When we get rid of these interleague games [they have two left] we'll be all right."
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
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