ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Dustin Pedroia would hardly be the first player you'd expect to come to the barricades in defense of Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. Pedroia remains exceptionally close with Valentine's predecessor, Terry Francona, and was the one who issued a biting retort ("That's not the way we go about our stuff around here") when Valentine took a public shot at Kevin Youkilis back in April.
But whatever his private thoughts may be, the Red Sox second baseman elected Friday to put a positive spin on the state of affairs in the Red Sox clubhouse, particularly in how manager Bobby Valentine is regarded.
Asked if the team was on the same page as its manager, Pedroia said: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure Bobby wants to win more than anybody here. Our main goal is to win together and, yeah, I'm pretty sure Bobby wants to do that because we all do.
"My job when I come to the field is to help us any way I can to win. It doesn't matter if I'm playing for Tito, Bobby, anybody -- that's my job. I was close to Tito because I felt I had to be. He stuck with me when I was hitting .150; everyone else would have sent me down, he kept me here. I felt I owed it to him to do all I can to help us.
"Same thing with Bobby. He let me play when he probably shouldn't have earlier in the year when I tried to help us win [despite a torn muscle in his right thumb]. I respect the [expletive] out of him for it."
Pedroia had been asked his thoughts regarding a report on ESPNBoston.com that chronicled a number of clubhouse issues with the Red Sox, most involving Valentine in some way. Valentine had told associates about communication problems with players and coaches, and had expressed an awareness of being "bad-mouthed" by players in the clubhouse. One player cited in the story said that Valentine did not have the support of any of the team's players.
Pedroia has said little about Valentine this season, positive or negative, and doesn't have anywhere near the regular communication he had with Francona, who was his daily cribbage partner.
"We can't worry about what somebody's writing, what people think, that players don't like the manager," Pedroia said. "Bobby's the manager of the team. He's the leader of the team. That's it. We're following him, he's basically leading, we're trying to win games."
Pedroia said he is troubled by the way the team is viewed from the outside.
"I know the perception is people don't like our pitchers, they're lazy, we don't have a likable team, we don't play hard," he said. "We see that stuff. Does it bother us? I'm sure it bothers some guys. We're going to try to win, man. Everybody in here wants to win and has each other's backs, so all that stuff that's been said, we just want to prove everything wrong.
"We're a family, man. I know a lot of guys have taken a lot of heat because of last year, our performance this year. As a team, we can't let that derail what we're trying to do. It can do that. You guys all write what you feel is going on, but we don't want to let anybody in this city down. We've all got to block that out and win games."
Pedroia's performance has suffered greatly since he tore the adductor muscle in his thumb. He missed only a week after the injury was diagnosed, insisting he could play through it, but has batted just .210 in 26 games since he was hurt. He went on the DL on July 4 after hyperextending the same thumb and thought he might be out for a few weeks, but his cast has been removed, he's hitting again and he expects to be activated as soon as next Thursday, the first day he is eligible.
With other injured players returning -- especially Jacoby Ellsbury, who came back Friday, and Carl Crawford, who says he will be back Monday -- Pedroia believes the Sox are in a position to make a strong playoff bid.
"Perception is one thing," Pedroia said. "Last year happened. We lost because we didn't play well, man. You're supposed to finish strong and we didn't. Not because of other [expletive]. That's it. We just didn't play good. We lost games we shouldn't have lost and we ended up getting beat the last day of the year.
"This year we've been without the best position player in baseball last year [Ellsbury] for 80 games. Carl hasn't played. I've been hurt the whole time. So it is what it is. We've had guys step up and kept us in the hunt. That's something to be proud of. Now it's time to go."
Pedroia hopes the white noise from outside stops long enough for the team to play like the playoff contender it perceives itself to be.
"Guys are frustrated by [the outside perception]," he said. "I know I am. It's not like this is just a job for me. This is my life, man. When someone is getting crushed in the media, saying stuff about our pitchers, Gonzo [Adrian Gonzalez] not hitting for power -- whatever it is, that doesn't affect just them. It affects everyone.
"So we're going to get through it together. Hopefully, we can prove everybody wrong and it'll be special."