For a team that has dealt with a barrage of injuries, starting with the sixth game of the season and never really ending, the argument can be made that nothing has hurt more than the 44-game loss of the fiery second baseman.
In many ways, Pedroia is the engine of the Red Sox, as he impacts them at the plate, in the field, on the bases and with his boundless enthusiasm for the game and his team.
Now, Pedroia is back from the fractured navicular bone in his left foot, and the Red Sox aren't in quite the same shape as they were when he last played. On the night of June 25 in San Francisco, the Sox were 44-31, three games behind the Yankees in the American League East and tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the lead in the AL Wild Card standings. Boston went 23-21 without Pedroia, swelling the AL East deficit to six games and the Wild Card gap to five. With their leader back, the Sox will try to close the gap.
"Everyone's been playing hurt," Pedroia said during his Minor League rehab assignment in Pawtucket this weekend. "Everyone's been grinding it out. It's been fun watching. The last seven weeks, I've watched our team, and we've fought every game. It's a pretty special group, so hopefully, we can sneak in there and surprise everybody."
With Kevin Youkilis (right thumb surgery) done for the season and Jacoby Ellsbury's status for the remainder of 2010 in serious doubt, Pedroia will do what he can to rally a team that has been resilient all year.
"Everyone in that clubhouse feels we can win," Pedroia said. "We don't need to prove anything to anybody. We've had guys fight through it all year. Frankly, we don't [care] what anybody thinks. We're trying to win games. That's the attitude we have. Jump on the wagon now. It's going to be a fun ride."
It's hard to expect that Pedroia will be 100 percent until next season, but there's no doubting what kind of effort he will bring.
"We're in a pennant race," Pedroia said. "It's tough sitting there and not being able to help out the guys. I've tried to come back as quick as I can. Hopefully, I can get in there and be feeling good."
What will it mean to have Pedroia back?
"He's definitely one of the anchors on this team," said Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, who will start Tuesday night's game. "He's able to go out there and make things happen that normal players don't do. He's definitely a spark plug for the offense and defense. He's just a key component to this team. Once he gets back and gets his feel back and everything, he's definitely going to be fun to watch, but he's going to help us out also."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona couldn't find his crystal ball when asked exactly what type of impact Pedroia's return will have on the team.
"I don't know," Francona said. "Everybody asks me that -- I don't know. How do you know? I can't say it before it happens. If he goes 0-for-40, not much. The idea is, he's a great player, so we're thrilled. So we don't know how it affects the games because the games aren't played yet."
But Francona would never dispute that Pedroia has a special and genuine personality, one that can't help but be positive for his teammates.
"Because he's legit, he pulls it off," Francona said. "[Kevin] Millar had his way -- he was a very different person. You couldn't do what Millar did and pull it off [unless you were Millar]. When you're genuine, it works. That's what Pedey is. [Pawtucket manager] Torey Lovullo called me last night and asked me, 'Is this kid like this every day?' And I said, 'He's not putting on a show for you. This is him.'"
The Red Sox will need every bit of what Pedroia can bring the rest of the way.
"There aren't really any words to describe him," Buchholz said. "He gives 150 percent every at-bat, every pitch, every play he makes in the field. There's never a lackadaisical moment on his part."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less