BOSTON -- Make no doubt about it, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia had his team's struggles with runners in scoring position on his mind when he stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning of Friday's game against the Oakland Athletics.
That's why you couldn't take the smile off of his face once he rounded the bases three pitches later.
On an 0-2 pitch from Athletics reliever Ryan Cook, Pedroia hit a grand slam just over the Green Monster in left to give the Red Sox a 6-1 lead that would hold the rest of the way. The home run was Pedroia's 100th of his career and brought him past 500 career RBIs as well. The home run was confirmed following a brief review of whether a fan may have interfered with the ball getting over the home run line.
"I was pretty excited to hit a home run, it's been a while," Pedroia said.
It was 160 at-bats between home runs, to be exact. Last year Pedroia battled thumb injuries that limited his power, and a left-wrist injury this year required a cortisone shot on April 15. He said Friday he was just trying to drive in at least one run so that his team wouldn't waste yet another golden opportunity with runners in scoring position. Instead, he hit his first home run of the season.
"As a team we've been scuffling a bit with guys on," Pedroia said. "I kept my weight back, which was nice; I haven't been doing that lately. I was able to hit it, kind of hit it off the end, but I backspun it so I was just able to get it over the Monster."
The Sox entered the game with a lowly .223 batting average with runners in scoring position, and it seemed they would once again be plagued by an inability to get the big hit when they needed it most. After putting runners on second and third with no outs in the fifth inning, Shane Victorino flew out to short right and David Ortiz struck out looking. Following a Mike Napoli intentional walk, Grady Sizemore was able to run the count full against Athletics reliever Fernando Abad before striking out, once again failing to take advantage of a scoring chance.
"In the [fifth] inning, we're sitting there with bases loaded ... and come away with a zero, but once again we create another big opportunity," manager John Farrell said. "Pedey with a grand slam in the sixth inning gives us the cushion."
Xander Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski started the inning off with back-to-back singles. After Will Middlebrooks struck out, Jackie Bradley Jr. walked, and the bases were once again loaded for the Red Sox.
Was it a sense of relief to finally get that big hit?
"A little bit," Farrell added. "Pedey gets his 100th home run in kind of grand fashion."
With 100 home runs in addition to his 121 career stolen bases, Pedroia joined Carl Yastrzemski as the only Red Sox with at least 100 in each category.
"They told me that after the game, that's crazy. I guess I'm getting old," Pedroia said. "Having your name anywhere said with his is an accomplishment."
It wasn't just an accomplishment for Pedroia, as his teammates also enjoyed being able to take part in the experience.
"What better guy to do it than Pedroia?" Bradley Jr. said. "That's a moment that I'll always remember, being on base as he hit his 100th, 500th RBI. It was special, and after a tough day yesterday, to come back out the way we did and play the ball that we're capable of, it feels good."
"That's Dustin Pedroia," winning pitcher Clay Buchholz said. "He's a character builder on this team, even when he's not hitting. ... There's nobody worried about Pedey, I promise."
Since receiving his cortisone shot, Pedroia has hit .309 with eight extra-base hits, most of which have been doubles to left field. Farrell said that power to the pull side is a good sign for Pedroia, who has hit 77 of his 100 career home runs to left field.
"I think you see some aggressiveness on pitches, particularly up in the strike zone," Farrell said. "More than anything, there's peace of mind knowing that structurally everything is sound and there's no issues there. I think he's in a pretty good place as far as swinging the bat goes."
Pedroia said he feels much better since receiving the shot and is still continuing to progress from where he was last year.
"Obviously, it wasn't what I normally do, but I got it fixed, and you do the rehab process and you get your strength back so you try to find ways to get back and remember what type of player you are," Pedroia said.
"A part of it is my follow-through. I went and watched the video of the home run, it was my normal follow-through."