Pesky Pedroia's Big Blast Sets Tone

BOSTON—Players on the Red Sox' World Series roster have combined to earn six postseason MVP awards, 35 All-Star Game berths and millions upon millions of dollars—all of which means the Sox met the barest of external expectations by reaching the World Series.

So how is it the sparkplug for the Sox—and the player who has provided the exclamation points during a sizzling four-game run that continued Wednesday with a 13-1 rout of the Rockies in Game One of the World Series at Fenway Park—is a minimally salaried overachiever who plays and acts far bigger than his height?

Don't let the 1-for-5 next to Dustin Pedroia's name in the boxscore fool you: By hitting a home run on the second pitch of the night, Pedroia set the tone for the Sox, who enjoyed a historic offensive outburst and proved that two days off after the AL Championship Series hadn't cooled them off.

"Our motto is always early and often and try to get as many runs [as possible]," Kevin Youkilis said after the Sox set Game One records for most runs scored and biggest margin of victory. "And Dustin, he came up there and hit that home run and that was huge…he got that hit and got this offense going."

Pretty impressive for someone who was stuck in stop less than 10 days ago. Pedroia had just five hits in his first 29 postseason at-bats through Game Four of the ALCS, and with the Sox trailing the Indians three games to one, impatient fans implored Terry Francona to bench Pedroia in favor of Alex Cora.

Slow starts are nothing new for Pedroia, who hit just .191 in 86 late-season at-bats last year and started slow this year (.182 through April) before emerging as the likely Rookie of the Year (he hit .333 the rest of the way to finish with a .317 average along with eight homers and 50 RBI).

Pedroia admitted he allowed the enormity of the postseason stage to intimidate him. "Everyone is watching these games," Pedroia said. "I remember the Angels series—I was nervous. Alex Cora told me ‘Hey, settle down, be yourself, have fun. This game is meant to be played, have fun. Play as hard as you can and leave it out there on the field. If we lose, we lose. Don't have any regrets."

Pedroia began rewarding Francona's faith in the seventh inning of Game Five of the ALCS, when he started a two-run rally with a leadoff double. What appeared to be a pair of insurance runs turned out to be much more.

Beginning with that seventh inning, the Sox have outscored the opposition 41-5 over the last 29 frames. Pedroia is 7-for-15 with seven runs scored and three walks in that span and single-handedly turned a taut Game Seven against the Indians into a rout by delivering a two-run homer in the seventh and a three-run double in the eighth.

"He struggled last year in 70 at-bats and this season [in] his first 100 at-bats he struggled," Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "But he can hit. I mean, that's the first thing I noticed in spring training: He can square up the baseball with anybody that I've ever seen."

If that's the first thing Magadan noticed about Pedroia, he's in the minority. Pedroia, generously listed at 5-foot-9, doesn't make much of an initial impression. In addition to his diminutive nature, his swing-from-the-heels approach and seemingly modest range in the field have led to skepticism about his abilities at every level.

Such doubts fuel Pedroia, who carries himself with a strut and spunk atypical for a rookie. "When you first meet Dustin for the first time, you kind of step back a little bit because he's not that usual minor league kid with a relaxed demeanor," Curt Schilling said. "He's somewhat ‘I'm going to kick your ass and there's nothing you can do about it. That's a little different.

"When you're 5'2'' it's obviously very different."

To watch Pedroia on a regular basis, though, is to see a player who can get away with a violent swing because of outstanding hand-eye coordination and impeccable mechanics. "He's short to the ball [and] when you're short to the ball, I don't care how big you are after contact," Magadan said. "And that's what he is: He's short and he's big after contact—which I'm fine with.

"He's inside the baseball and he's direct to it. Whatever issues he's got—he kind of bails a little bit—it doesn't matter because his hand-eye coordination is as good as anybody I've seen."

Pedroia made just six errors at second base and made perhaps the gem of the Sox season Sept. 1, when he dove into the hole behind second to snare a grounder, leaped up and fired to first to nail Miguel Tejada by a step and keep Clay Buchholz' no-hitter alive.

"[Arizona State coach Pat Murphy] told me that one of the things about Dustin that he had never seen before is if he gets to the ball, it's an out," Schilling said. "Guys that know baseball don't say that about a lot of people, and it was true."

Pedroia has basked in the attention over the last several weeks, a surprising departure for a player who often seemed annoyed by the gaggle of media that chronicles the Sox during the regular season. He regaled reporters at his locker Tuesday with self-deprecating jokes about his height and muscles, or lack thereof.

Don't let the good humor fool you, though. A player who has spent years disproving his doubters—he earned All-Pac 10 honors in his final three seasons at Arizona State and was a second-round draft pick of the Sox in 2004—won't be content until he adds a World Series ring to his resume.

"You don't have to be big to play this game," Pedroia said. "If you work hard, you get better, I've played this game a long time—since I was like four years old—so I don't think size is an issue. It is [at] that first month of every level I go to.

"We're all playing the same game, playing hard. I don't think size is [a big deal]. There's a lot of guys..."

Then, after the slightest pause and with the slightest hint of told-you-so defiance, Pedroia added "...like David Eckstein. The World Series MVP last year, wasn't he?"

He was. And he's 5-foot-6.


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