BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia is playing so well even his manager is surprised by his success.
Boston's sparkplug was called safe with a hustling double in the fifth inning Saturday night, eluding a tag with a headfirst slide. Then Terry Francona, thinking he was ruled out, came out of the Red Sox dugout to argue the call.
Pedroia waved him back and made the safe sign. Francona turned around and slowly walked back.
"I didn't know what he was doing," Pedroia said after Boston's 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox, managing to stifle a grin, "but I'm just glad he was watching the game."
And what a game it was, especially for the scrappy second baseman.
Pedroia took over the AL lead with a .327 batting average. And he did it from the cleanup spot, the first time last year's rookie of the year batted there in the majors.
"This guy right now is on fire," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. "No matter what you throw there, he's going to get it."
"I hope Youk's feeling better" when the Red Sox go for a sweep Sunday, Pedroia said. "I don't really like hitting fourth."
Pedroia went 4-for-4, scored three times, swiped two bases and walked in Boston's 8-0 win Friday night. He had a double and three singles again Saturday.
Guillen had seen enough by the time Pedroia came up in the eighth with David Ortiz on third and two outs. He decided to walk him intentionally and the crowd chanted, "MVP, MVP" as the 5-foot-7 Pedroia trotted to first base.
"I never thought I would walk a jockey," Guillen said. "I get opportunities to walk him to face Big Papi, I will do it."
On the headfirst slide, second baseman Alexei Ramirez had the ball in his glove on the ground, but Pedroia raised his left arm over it and touched the base before being tagged.
He'd done that "a couple other times this year," Pedroia said nonchalantly.
He also was in the middle of two double plays and leaped to catch a liner.
The Red Sox won for the fifth time in six games and moved 3½ games ahead of Minnesota in the wild-card race. They remained 4½ back of AL East-leading Tampa Bay.
The AL Central-leading White Sox have lost three straight but remained a half-game ahead of the Twins, who lost 3-2 at Oakland.
Boston was without Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Sean Casey, all on the disabled list. And Coco Crisp missed his second straight game with flulike symptoms. But Kotsay, obtained from Atlanta on Wednesday, went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and Jeff Bailey, who spent most of the season in the minors, hit his first homer of the season.
"We did a good job," Jason Varitek said, "led by our little man."
Michael Bowden (1-0) left his first major league start after five innings with Boston leading 5-2. He stranded runners in scoring position in three innings.
"His poise and his mound presence were outstanding," Francona said.
Mark Buehrle (11-11) gave up hits to four of Boston's first six batters -- the same number he allowed the Red Sox in seven innings in Chicago's 6-3 win on Aug. 8.
"I felt the same as I did the last time against them," he said, but "I was just leaving everything up."
Ellsbury doubled and took third on Pedroia's single in the first. A ground-rule double by Kotsay drove in one run and another one by Jason Bay drove in two more.
Alexei Ramirez doubled in Jermaine Dye in the second to cut it to 3-1 but the Red Sox pushed across two runs in the bottom half on Bailey's second career homer, Ellsbury's triple and Jed Lowrie's sacrifice fly.
Buehrle retired seven straight batters before running into trouble again with one out in the fifth.
Ortiz beat out a grounder up the middle for a single and took third on Pedroia's double. Then Kotsay lined a double to right to make it 7-2.
But Pedroia was the unassuming star.
"You go through times in the year where you're not very good and then you go through times when you are good," he said. "The last couple of days I got on base every time, so it's just one of those things."
The last Red Sox player with four or more hits in consecutive games was Wade Boggs on June 8 and 10, 1989. "Oh really?" Pedroia said, "Right on." ... Pierzynski broke an 0-for-14 slump with a single in the fifth. ... Crede's triple was his first since Sept. 26, 2003, at Kansas City. ... Bowden is the third starter to make his major league debut with the Red Sox this season, following Justin Masterson and Charlie Zink.