- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- If you're looking for the difference between Boston losing three of the first four games of the American League Championship Series but then routing Cleveland in the final three, start at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Dustin Pedroia, who started the series slow, combined with No. 2 hitter Kevin Youkilis to go 15-for-26 with 12 runs, 11 RBIs, four walks and three home runs in the final three victories. Pedroia's two-run homer in the seventh inning Sunday night broke open Game 7, and Youkilis' mighty home run off the Coke bottles punctuated the Red Sox's pennant-clinching victory.
That's the problem with Boston's lineup. Even when you finally shut down David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, there are other batters who can make a pitcher want to break into a cold sweat and look longingly to the bullpen.
The likely AL Rookie of the Year, Pedroia batted .317 with 86 runs and more walks (47) than strikeouts (42) this season. The postseason didn't faze the second baseman much; he hit .345 with eight runs and five RBIs in the ALCS.
"Pedroia has had a great year," Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "It shouldn't surprise you when a good player who's been good all year succeeds at this time."
"This is on the biggest stage, and everyone is watching these games," Pedroia said. "I remember the Angels series. I was nervous, and Alex Cora told me, 'Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, so have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets.' Ever since then, I kind of went out there and I don't worry about anything but playing hard."
Pedroia gave Boston an early lead Sunday when he singled and scored in the first inning. After Boston extended its lead to 3-0, Cleveland inched back into the game with a couple of runs, so it was 3-2 when Pedroia came up against reliever Rafael Betancourt with one on and one out in the seventh inning. He slammed an 0-1 pitch over the Green Monster to put the Red Sox more comfortably ahead again.
"I hit it good and the wind was kind of blowing out to center and it kind of started pushing it, so I was like, 'Geez, don't hit the top of the fence,' " Pedroia said. "Once it went out, man, I was so excited and had so much adrenaline going on, I don't even remember running around the bases, to tell you the truth. I just got around there. It was the biggest at-bat of my life, and I'll never forget it."
Youkilis was consistent throughout the series, batting .500 with three home runs and seven RBIs. It's hard to say which image will haunt Cleveland pitchers more this winter -- Youkilis fouling off pitch after infuriating pitch, or the first baseman crushing the ball off the Coke bottle sign beyond the Monster. It's a wonder the bottles didn't shatter.
"His bat has really come alive," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "He just doesn't always hit singles. If you make a mistake, he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. His defense has been spectacular all year, and when you put that bat in front of David and Manny, it gets interesting."
"He's a great hitter," Mirabelli said. "He grinds out the at-bats. That's a guy who will never give up an at-bat. He steps up in big situations and gives us a big, big boost."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
2hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information