A few nights earlier Francona had called a squeeze play in the bottom of the 12th inning of a tie against the Royals—the play blew up when shortstop Marco Scutaro missed the sign—in what became a Red Sox loss. "He's an idiot," Pedroia says of Francona. "He tries to squeeze the other day? What's wrong with him? He tried to squeeze off a guy throwing 95 and coming [sidearm]. Our dugout got all quiet and I wanted to start laughing, but I could tell he was pissed. I didn't mess with him until the next day. I'm like, 'Dude, you've got to chill out, man. Who's going to bunt a guy throwing 95 [sidearm]? Thank God Scoot missed the bunt sign, because if the pitch was in, it would have hit him in the throat. You could have caused us to miss our shortstop for six weeks with a broken neck!'"
Two years ago in Baltimore, in Victor Martinez's first game behind the plate after the Red Sox obtained him in a trade with Cleveland, Francona walked to the mound to make a pitching change. "Pedey goes to me, 'Get the [bleep] out of here. Leave us alone and we'll win the [bleeping] game!' " Francona says. "And Victor has this look on his face like, What the [bleep] is going on here?"
Francona especially cherishes that Pedroia's confidence and fearlessness are transferable. In a room full of strong personalities—Jason Varitek the captain; Ortiz, the cool cat; Kevin Youkilis, the spring-loaded third baseman; Adrian Gonzalez, the quiet pro; Jonathan Papelbon, the loopy fireballer—Pedroia is Francona's top lieutenant, a special ops force all his own. He yaps constantly, for instance, at centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, against whom he played in the Pac-10 and whose calmness scares him.
"I've got to make sure he's ready to play the game hard," Pedroia says. "I just kind of stab at him. He does everything in life slow, then he runs fast. He makes me nervous. I feel like one day he's going to forget to go up to the box, just stand there in the on-deck circle."
Ortiz, too, is a frequent target of Pedroia's, and not just for his flamboyant wardrobe. "What he wears is embarrassing," Pedroia says. "Sometimes he chirps when he's feeling good, and when he's feeling good sometimes he tries to hit home runs. And when David tries to hit home runs he has zero chance of getting a hit. He'll hit a ground ball to second every time. So I yell at him, 'Hey, David, if you don't hit the ball to leftfield we're going to fight.' He kind of looks at me like, 'Yeah, you're right. I better hit the ball to leftfield.' So then I yell at him and he tightens it up."
Says Ortiz, whom Pedroia calls Pun, as in Punisher, "I love Pedey. He is something special. He's like a little brother to me."
If you think of the Red Sox' clubhouse as a cattle farm, Pedroia would be the little herding dog, a corgi, that by nature must run and bark and nip at heels to make everyone function with some order. This works on the field as well as off. "He kind of runs the show here," Francona says. "And the more he runs it, the better off we are. I can't say that whenever he talks they listen, because he never shuts up. But the more he has to say about how we do things, the better off we are."
Until recently Pedroia was listed in his wife's phone as Pedro, his nickname in college. (Kelli also attended Arizona State and was introduced to him by a mutual friend.) In 2010, thanks to a postgame lecture to reporters defending Ortiz, who was having a slow start, Pedroia became known as Laser Show, which gave way to another nickname last month.
That night in St. Petersburg, after a 16th-inning single by Pedroia beat Tampa Bay 1--0, a bunch of Red Sox players were eating in the food room off the visiting clubhouse when outfielder Darnell McDonald referred to Pedroia as Laser Show. "I don't want to be called that anymore," Pedroia said.
McDonald, a bit perplexed, replied, "Well, what do you want to be called?"