By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Jon Lester sauntered through the home clubhouse following Friday afternoons majestic home opener while wrapped in a towel, and announced to nobody in particular Yall can breathe now before heading straight to his locker.
Those waiting to exhale in the Red Sox dugout did so after finally forcing their way into the victory column with a hard-to-come-by 9-6 win over the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Fenway Park, and there were plenty of heroes to be singled out after winning time.
Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona both gave notable speeches before the game to reassure the beleaguered troops, but there is only so much idle talk can accomplish amid a historically epic fail masquerading as the start to Bostons baseball season.
Instead it was the teams diminutive heart and soul shouting with his bat and thumbing the doubters with his defiant attitude that paved the way for victory.
Dustin Pedroia was all set with losing, and shaped the redemptive tone for the rest of his teammates when he lashed a Phil Hughes offering high into the Green Monster seats in the first inning.
The long ball arrived after John Lackey already labored through a two-run top of the first, and the Sox needed something to spark them.
It was fun, man, said Pedroia. It was fun being at home. We needed it. We have a lot of expectations and we dont want to let anybody down, man. Thats our thing. We want to play hard, win and have fun doing it.
The solo dinger was Pedroias third straight Opening Day homer at Fenway Park, but this one was clearly the grandest given the turmoil his ballclub was mired in after starting winless in their first six games. Pedroia joined Fred Lynn as the only Sox player to go deep in three straight home openers: the sweet-swinging centerfielder did it from 1978-80 with an entirely different group of Red Stockings.
The Sox second baseman also finished with three hits and two more RBIs in the second inning, and gave the Sox an offensive jolt theyd desperately been searching for.
The team was yearning for a defiantly Pedroia attitude just as much as the on-field production, and he had that in man-sized amounts as well.
The second baseman flipped off his elbow guard with braggadocio as he circled second base during his first inning home run trot, and then fired off inspirational words to a dugout full of players as he jogged back in. Then he hit the dirt safely at home plate in the second inning after scampering from second on an Adrian Gonzalez single.
One could almost feel the energy filling back into Bostons reserves now that their inspirational leader was willing them to victory, and his teammates followed suit.
Most of Sox regulars are used to this kind of thing, but for the news guys it was their first viewing of Pedroia in Full.
I noticed it playing against him, but once youre in the same room with him he takes it to a whole new level, said reliever Bobby Jenks. It almost seems like the more pissed off he gets the better he gets.
There must have been an Olympic swimming pool-sized amount of frustration running through Pedroias little body during the long losing streak, and some it was released during that cathartic home run jaunt.
But theres still enough to go around even after the leadoff homer and 3 RBI performance in his home debut.
Theres ample digging left to escape the 1-6 hole Boston has created to start the season, and Pedroia is opting for the team route to solving their troubles rather than accepting back pats and Atta boys for one days work.
We just need to continue to play well and continue to work, said Pedroia. I came in here thinking we need a win, and we need to find a way to do it. I dont care if its the ugliest win of all time. We needed that win.
The Boston win was ugly, but Pedroias performance was far from it.
The former Rookie of the Year and MVP would seem to be right where he needs to be with a .296 batting average after seven games, but all that still matters to him is raising his club out of the doldrums while grinding out games and blocking out the negativity surrounding a team off to a potentially disastrous beginning.
Were 1-6. We dont care whatever you guys say or write. Were just grinding. Were just going to play baseball, said Pedroia. Weve got a lot of great players on this team and a lot of great pitching. Well find ourselves.
We all want to do well. We all want to get a hit every time up. So does Youk. So does Carl. So does everybody else.
The difference today: Pedroia started getting those hits early and set down the gauntlet for the rest of his teammates to follow.
Once again the Little Sox Generals unbending attitude show them the way to victory when they needed it most, and things are a little better in Boston at least for a day.