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Boston loses its heart and soul as year of hurt, hardship continues


Now it's Dustin Pedroia.

The Red Sox have faced a lot of adversity this year. Theo Epstein and his minions preached "run prevention" during spring training, but it looked more like "win prevention" when the season started at Fenway in April. The Sox lost nine of their first 14 games. They were swept four straight at Fenway by Tampa Bay. As of May 23, they were a whopping eight and a half games behind the Rays, sitting in fourth place in the American League East.

Injuries gave them plenty of excuses. Jacoby Ellsbury, the flossy young centerfielder who hit .300 and stole 70 bases last year, cracked a bunch of ribs in April and has played in only nine games. Mike Cameron tore a muscle in his abdomen and has one homer and eight RBIs. Daisuke Matsuzaka started the season on the disabled list and Josh Beckett (one victory) went to the DL on May 19. Jeremy Hermida went away after cracking ribs on yet another collision with Adrian Beltre.

While all this was happening, the Sox regained their mojo and started winning games. Since April 20, they own the best record in baseball (42-22). They pulled to within a half game of first place a week ago and are 1 1/2 games out of first after the Yankees' comeback win on Sunday.

The Sox are certainly happy to be back in Boston after an eventful 3-3 trip through Denver and San Francisco. Jonathan Papelbon blew a couple of saves in Denver, but the toughest loss came last Friday night in San Francisco when Pedroia broke a bone in his left foot.

Adding injuries to insult, Clay Buchholz hyperextended his knee running the bases and came out of a start in the second inning (Saturday), and catcher Victor Martinez broke a bone in his left thumb and had to be replaced Sunday afternoon.

The Sox aren't sure how long they'll be without Victor. Manager Terry Francona said Martinez might not even go on the disabled list.

The loss of Pedroia is the one that will linger, the one that stings. The Sox have been able to withstand a lot of hurt and hardship this season, but losing Pedroia strips them of their heart and soul.

On the nights of June 24 and June 25, Pedroia experienced the ecstasy and the agony. Last Thursday night at Coors Field, he hit three homers, went 5-for-5 and walked in a 13-11, extra-inning win over the Rockies. Twenty four hours later, at AT&T Park in San Francisco, he was in the dirt in the batter's box after drilling a Jonathan Sanchez 3-1 pitch off his left instep.

Francona ran out to speak with Pedroia after he crashed in the batter's box, and it was decided he could stay in the game. He walked on the next pitch and could barely stagger down the line to first base. Pedroia was finally lifted and the next day learned that he had a broken bone in his left foot.

This is going to be a tough one for the Red Sox to withstand. They managed to win three of six games on the trip and return to Fenway on Tuesday against the Rays with the fourth-best record in baseball, but they play in the American League East, which has three of the top teams in baseball. Only two can make the playoffs.

The Sox have made the postseason in six of the last seven seasons. Theo last winter hinted that 2010 might be a "bridge year" in which they were less competitive while Double A matured in the Sox farm system, but spoiled Boston fans rejected the notion. Any year in which the Sox don't make the playoffs is now considered a failure. And it's not going to be easy in 2010, especially without Pedroia for the middle of the summer.

"I'm disappointed, but there's nothing we can do,'' said Francona. "The level of my disappointment's not going to make him heal quicker. I felt bad for him. He comes in today and he's already wanting to know who's going to play second. I've never seen a kid care more about a team. ... He's so upset because he knows he helps us win. So we'll find a way to win.''

Bill Hall looks like the regular second baseman for a while. The Sox also made a trade for former A's infielder/outfielder Eric Patterson. But it's going to be hard to replace Pedroia, a former American League MVP (2008) who was hitting .292 with 24 doubles, 12 homers, 41 RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .370 on-base percentage in 73 games. He was batting third in the lineup at the time of his injury.

"We really have a lot of players so we'll be fine,'' said Pedroia. "We'll always find ways to win. We've had guys hurt all year, and we've still been able to win games. I don't see why we still can't do that. Everyone is going to have to step up and find a way to win ball games.''

Trying to turn the negative into a positive, Francona said, "We've played with so much better personality in the last one and a half. It's a good feeling. This team is forming it's own personality which is great.''

Tough to do when the little guy with the big personality is on crutches.