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Dustin Pedroia backs Kevin Youkilis

Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Valentine shared a laugh in the dugout before Monday’s game.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Valentine shared a laugh in the dugout before Monday’s game.

Although he does not wear the captain’s “C” on his jersey, Dustin Pedroia is considered the de facto leader in the Red Sox clubhouse.

So, when manager Bobby Valentine seemed to call into question Kevin Youkilis’s commitment Sunday night that the Sox third baseman wasn’t “physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,’’ Pedroia stepped up and his support for Youkilis.

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The Sox third baseman rebounded from a 2-for-10 start to the season by going 4 for 10 with six runs, three RBIs, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the first three games of this season-opening homestand against the Rays.

“I know Youk plays as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in my life and I have his back and his teammates have his back,’’ Pedroia said. “We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.’’

Valentine said he met with Youkilis, who visited with the manager in his office before Monday’s game against Tampa, and apologized for any offense the third baseman may have taken at his remarks.

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“I told him the last thing in the world I want you to think is that I’m doing anything to criticize you,’’ Valentine said. “I told him I was just giving an answer to a question and I should’ve been more specific ... I don’t know if he accepted my apology, but it was very sincere. The last thing I wanted him to think that it was anything but an answer to a question that seemed to be jabbing at him.’’

When he was asked if Valentine’s was to try to motivate Youkilis, Pedroia replied: “Maybe in Japan or something, but over here in the US we’re on a three-game winning streak and we want to feel good and keep it rolling.

“We feel we have a good team and we just got to get each other’s backs and play together, because if we don’t do that, I don’t care what sport you’re playing, you’re not going to win. This game is hard and Youk’s a great player and he works his butt off and we all know how hard he works.”

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