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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Pedroia has become face of Red Sox franchise

Pedroia has become face of Red Sox franchise

Pedroia has become face of Red Sox franchise

BOSTON -- When the Red Sox are asked about their second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, they almost always begin with the same stuff.

They'll tell you he's a funny dude. For instance, there was the time the late Johnny Pesky was telling a group of players about Ted Williams. It was "Ted" this and "Ted" that. After a while, Pedroia spoke up.

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"Johnny," Pedroia said, "who the heck is Ted Williams?"

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Yes, Pesky thought that was funny.

Wait, there's more.

During his offseason workouts in Arizona, Pedroia occasionally will challenge an NFL player or two to a fight. Does he mean it? No one is sure because, well, that just may be Pedroia keeping the atmosphere light.

And there was the time a reporter asked about a stretch of games in which Pedroia wasn't hitting the way he normally does. Pedroia mentioned he'd been asked the same thing a year or two earlier.

"People were worried," he said mockingly. "What happened? Laser show! So relax."

Pedroia starts talking the moment he shows up in the clubhouse each day and pretty much doesn't stop.

"Actually, most of the jokes are on me," he pointed out.

OK, whatever.

Sometimes he says random stuff.

"I'm not sure you could print a lot of it," general manager Ben Cherington said.

On a given night, Pedroia might announce he's going to hit four home runs. He'll say it loudly, too. And often.

When he gets on teammates, it can either be something completely ridiculous or something with a message.

"You can't challenge others if you don't challenge yourself first," Cherington said. "He challenges himself most of all."

There's another thing almost everyone around the Red Sox says about Pedroia: He's the hardest worker any of them have ever seen.

He's the first to arrive almost every day and one of the last to leave. He's there to work, too. If that means taking more ground balls, he'll take more ground balls.

Batting practice? Yep, that, too.

His goal is simple -- to be the best baseball player he can be and to do his part to make sure the Red Sox win a championship.

"He's fiercely competitive," Cherington said.

Maybe you've heard that these Red Sox are Pedroia's team and that they reflect his work ethic and competitiveness and all the rest.

After the 69-93 season of 2012, it didn't seem possible that the Red Sox would end up in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers at 8 p.m. Saturday on FOX.

They got back here because Cherington executed a remarkable remake of the team and because two veteran pitchers, Jon Lester and John Lackey, bounced back from bad seasons.

But the Red Sox are here because of their second baseman, too. In his eighth Major League season, he's the face of the franchise.

Sure, the Red Sox are David Ortiz's team, too. In fact, championship teams are composed of dozens of moving parts, with contributions coming from here, there and everywhere.

But Pedroia is the face of the franchise and its best player. But that's another thing when it comes to asking for opinions about him.

Almost no one mentions that he's one of the 10 best players in the AL. After eight seasons, his greatness is unquestioned. He's a four-time All-Star and a former AL Rookie of the Year (2007) and Most Valuable Player (2008).

He was the AL's ninth-best player in 2013, according to the Wins Above Replacement rankings, calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, after hitting .301 with 42 doubles, nine home runs and 17 stolen bases. In addition, he was the AL's best defensive second baseman, according to FanGraphs.com.

Beyond the numbers, Pedroia's contributions to this team probably can't be calculated precisely. Cherington remade the roster so dramatically that part of the process was getting all of the new guys to think and act as one.

For that there was Pedroia and his running buddy, Ortiz, the longest-tenured everyday players.

"You can quantify the stuff on the field, the batting, the defense and baserunning," Cherington said. "It's hard to quantify the other stuff. But it's certainly there with him, and he means a lot."

Pedroia said that it's not about doing or saying any particular thing. It's about going out and playing and being a good teammate. And yes, it's about winning.

"It just takes time," he said. "You could tell the first couple of workouts in Spring Training that guys were focused. It didn't matter if we were doing a bunt defense or some of the things that kind of get annoying in Spring Training. Guys took it kind of personally to do everything right. And we continued to do that all year, whether it's running the bases or sliding into second trying to break up a two or anything. Guys have a great mind-set. We just want to show up and win that day. "

In almost every conversation about this team, Cherington, manager John Farrell and others mention that the players are close, that they trust and believe in one another. But how important is that anyway? Plenty of players who didn't get along have won championships.

"It's really important when your mind-set everyday is about everybody," Pedroia said. "There's not a guy in the room that's concerned about themselves or their own personal stuff. If we do well as a team, you're going to play well. You can't win in the Major Leagues as a team if individuals don't perform well. I think everyone understood that from the start. We've just played well."

Did he think that the Red Sox could go from 69-93 to 97-65?

"I never really thought about it," he said. "When I showed up to Spring Training, our goal was to win the World Series. We're the Boston Red Sox. That was my focus in the offseason working out. In talking to the guys we signed and had coming back, that's always going to be our goal."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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