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10/20/08 3:35 AM EST

Pedroia, at center of ALCS, lauds Rays

Typically gritty effort from Sox's second baseman not enough

ST. PETERSBURG -- Dustin Pedroia started all 25 of the Red Sox's games -- regular season and postseason -- against the Rays this year, something no other Boston player can say. He was in the middle of every game, battling with every key at-bat as the Rays and Red Sox fought for the upper hand in the American League East.

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All of those duels came down to one final game, Sunday night's American League Championship Series Game 7, and Pedroia was in the middle of seemingly everything. And in the end, he was at the forefront of those giving credit to the Rays.

"We battled with them all season long," Pedroia said. "They ended up beating us. They outplayed us. You never really say the better team didn't win. In October, the best team always wins, and they ended up beating us."

For Pedroia, "outplayed" is a very rare word. In this case, it probably wasn't accurate. Considering how hard he had played, he would have been tough to top.

Pedroia scored the Red Sox's only run on Sunday in the 3-1 loss and accounted for two of the other five baserunners that Rays starter Matt Garza allowed to reach safely. The second baseman turned a 1-2 count into an 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk. He had just the second successful stolen base of the series for Boston, then saw Rays catcher Dioner Navarro later throw him out at second on a daring hit-and-run attempt. In the field, Pedroia turned a ground ball hit to the hole against an infield shift for Carlos Pena into a fielder's choice at second with a throw to Kevin Youkilis at the bag.

"We're glad he's on our side," manager Terry Francona said of Pedroia.

In the end, Pedroia was left saying many of the same things that echoed in the visitors' clubhouse.

"We played as hard as we could," Pedroia said. "We just kind of ran out of magic."

Pedroia's at-bats at least provided the hint that some magic was possible against Garza. After Garza retired Coco Crisp to open the game, the right-hander left an offspeed pitch up to Pedroia, who pulled it on a line with enough loft to clear the left-field fence for his third home run of the series.

"I left a mistake up to Pedroia, and the good hitter he is, he made me pay for it," Garza said. "He took that ball over the left-field wall, and I just told myself, 'That's it.'"

Francona in elimination games
The Red Sox are 9-2 in elimination games under manager Terry Francona.
2005ALDSWhite Sox3Lost

That ended up being it, but Pedroia tried to add on in any way possible. He took an 0-2 fastball off his left arm with two outs in the third inning, then swiped second to reach scoring position for David Ortiz before Garza sent the slugger down swinging.

Pedroia's 11-pitch at-bat against Garza in the sixth inning played out as a battle within the greater battle of the game. Down in the count, 1-2, early, Pedroia looked at a ball before fouling off four tough pitches in a row.

After taking a slider for a ball, Pedroia wasted another pitch away before finally working a walk, putting the tying run aboard with one out in the frame. When Ortiz worked the count full, Francona sent him on the run again.

The move, Francona said later, was another rare opportunity to have the Red Sox run their way into some offense by moving Pedroia from first to third with an Ortiz single. Instead, Ortiz swung through a high fastball, and Navarro fired a strike to shortstop Jason Bartlett at second to complete the double play and end the inning.

"In that situation, you're pretty confident David's going to put the ball in play," Pedroia said. "If he hits the ball in the gap, I'm going to score. That's all that is."

Through Pedroia's first three plate appearances, Garza was unable to retire the second baseman. When Pedroia stepped to the plate with two runners on and nobody out in the eighth inning, however, he had to face Dan Wheeler, who had held the AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate hitless in seven career at-bats. This time, Pedroia nearly got him.

It briefly looked like the ball might carry. Instead of another drive to deep left, however, Pedroia ended up with a fly ball. As he said, the magic was out.

"I put a good swing on it -- I just got under it a little bit," Pedroia said. "But that's the way the game goes."

There wasn't much more Pedroia could say about it. Like others on the Red Sox, he had never known playoff elimination in a Boston uniform. Having to accept it for the first time, Pedroia simply had to give credit -- not just for seven games of battles, but 25.

"We gave ourselves an opportunity," Pedroia said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. That's all you can ask for. When they scored those couple runs, we kept fighting. There's no quit in this team. They just ended up beating us."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.