Pedroia preserves Red Sox shutout

BOSTON -- David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia were sitting in the Red Sox dugout prior to Saturday night's game and watched as the grounds crew prepared to put the tarp over the field at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox teammates had just completed a session of early batting practice and with the field ready to be covered, that meant no BP for either the Red Sox or the Royals. As Ortiz and Pedroia sat there and talked baseball, Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale yelled from the fungo circle: "Dustin, we've got 15 minutes before the rain starts, do you want to take ground balls?"

Pedroia quickly grabbed his glove, hat and sprinted out to his position.

"Nobody works harder in baseball than that guy right there," Ortiz said. "He lives and eats baseball."

Pedroia wants to win. He wants to win every day and that's why he hardly ever takes a day off during the season. But after the Red Sox narrowly defeated the Kansas City Royals 1-0 on Saturday night, Boston manager Terry Francona said his All-Star second baseman will have Sunday off. With Monday's off day, it will give Pedroia two days of rest. He's played in 50 of 51 games this season.

Even though Pedroia went 0-for-3 on Saturday and is 5-for-40 (.125) in his last 10 games, he still found a way to help the Red Sox win.

With two outs and Boston clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning, the tying run stood 90 feet away when the Royals' David DeJesus smoked a hard ground ball up the middle to the right of the second-base bag off Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard. It appeared the Royals would have their first run of the game.

Enter Pedroia.

He made an outstanding sliding grab (similar to the one he made to secure Clay Buchholz's no-hitter in 2007) and made the throw to first to end the threat and the inning.

"That was pretty special," said Bard. "I don't know if it'll make the highlight reels, but given the situation that's about as big a play you can make for your team."

Not only Bard was relieved that Pedroia made the outstanding play, Buchholz was too. With the victory, the right-hander improves to 7-3 after he worked seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits with four walks and four strikeouts.

"Pedey, he's unbelievable," Buchholz said. "He makes big plays whenever you need to make a big play and that's why he's as good as he is. He never gives up and gives 110 percent on every play and on every at-bat. We're lucky to have a guy like that at second base for us. You can't say enough about the guy. He's one of the best there is at that position in this game."

With the game as close as it was, there was very small margin for error. If that grounder got by Pedroia, the outcome could have been different for the Red Sox. But he flashed the leather and secured the victory for Boston. All the Red Sox needed was a 1-2-3 inning by closer Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the ninth to finish it off.

Papelbon earned his 12th save of the season, but it was Pedroia who deserves the 'S' in this one.

"He helps you win. He always does," said Francona. "In saying that, I think he needs a day off, but it's not easy to give him days off because he's such a good player. We've talked about how good he is defensively, but when the game is on the line, he's even better."

Usually Pedroia will try to convince his manager that he doesn't need a day off, but he didn't this time around, according to Francona.

This two-day break for Pedroia will be welcomed, but he's not about to make any excuses for his lack of offensive output of late. It's a long season and he knows, as the rest of the Red Sox do, that come September his numbers will be exactly where they need to be.

"I can guarantee you that I won't end the year hitting .260 or whatever the [expletive] I'm hitting now," he said after Friday's loss. "I can guarantee you that. I don't guarantee a lot, but that's for damn sure."

Ortiz has dealt with the scrutiny during his slumps, but he does not want to hear anyone criticize Pedroia for his skid.

"That's why a player like him, you've got to bite your tongue before you criticize him. When you talk [expletive] about Pedey that means you don't know what you're talking about -- period. You want to come and watch a game and watch a baseball player play, come and watch Pedroia.

"You can write this down straight up. Laser show is going to show up at any time from Pedey. That's what I have to say. Pedey is the last guy I'm worried about."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.