Worth the wait
Pedroia silences critics after sluggish start
Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 11:30AM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 12:37PM
A month into the first full season of his big-league career, Dustin Pedroia couldn't sleep. He would come home, or slog back to the team hotel, upset about everything that was going wrong. He would read how the Red Sox needed to yank him from the lineup and put in the hot-hitting Alex Cora. The boos from the fans at Fenway Park rang in his ears.
He would lie awake in the early morning hours during that first month, just thinking. And thinking some more. And steaming. A lot.
Didn't they all know that he would hit? Didn't all those talk-show hosts and columnists and beer-guzzlers in the stands know that he had started slowly before? Why wasn't anyone giving him a chance? Why was no one willing to wait just a little longer?
"It was tough," Pedroia says now, more than six weeks into a sizzling comeback that has turned around both his season and Boston's perception of the new Red Sox second baseman. "I think the fans and the media and everything around there kind of got me down a little bit. They didn't think I could do it. Doubting me. I mean, I've had that my whole life. But this is on a bigger stage.
"I think the best part of this is proving everyone wrong and showing them that I can be a part of it."
Pedroia, on the edge of losing his starting spot after hitting .182 in April, now has a grip on his job that he may not let go of for a long time. He has quickly become a critical part of a deep Boston lineup, an all-fields hitter with patience and more power than you might expect.
Since May 1 Pedroia has been one of the best hitters anywhere, batting .382 with a .441 on-base percentage and a .991 OPS. Only two players -- Detroit's Magglio Ordonez and Washington's Dmitri Young -- have a higher batting average (with a minimum of 140 plate appearances) during that span. Pedroia's in the top 10 in on-base percentage since May 1, too.
At first glance, Pedroia -- who won't turn 24 until August -- might not look the part of a big-time big-league hitter. He's 5-foot-9 and probably lighter than the 180 pounds listed in the Red Sox media guide. He has a long, hard swing which tends toward an uppercut. By now, though, those appearances should fool no one. Pedroia can hit.
A quick example: On Wednesday night against the Braves, one pitch after Atlanta reliever Rafael Soriano blew a 95 mph fastball past him, up and in, Soriano came back with a 96 mph heater. Pedroia turned on it, crushing the pitch deep to left for a double off the glove of Matt Diaz. It was the 13th double Pedroia has had in the last 38 games, along with three home runs and 21 RBIs.
"He's a little unorthodox. I think that, as a coaching staff, you can fall into the problem of, 'Oh, we've got to change him. He's at the major-league level, he can't possibly do it like this,'" manager Terry Francona told reporters earlier this month when he bumped Pedroia up in the lineup. "Well you know what? He can. We'd be wrong to jump in."
Francona's reluctance to shake things up is a big reason why Pedroia is where he is. The skipper handled Pedroia's early-season problems perfectly, telling reporters and anyone else who would listen that the rookie just needed a little more time. Even as Cora was streaking in late April, Francona played him ahead of Pedroia only in spots. Then the rookie caught on.
Pedroia started his tear hitting ninth in the lineup, but Francona has changed things a bit lately, sticking Pedroia into the No. 2 hole every day for the past week. He has responded there, batting .367 with a .424 on-base percentage. His ability to hit to all fields and his plate discipline make it a perfect spot for him in this lineup.
It's difficult for anyone to point to a singular, light-bulb moment when everything clicked for Pedroia. The California native has started slowly before, in high school, at Arizona State and in his brief time in the minor leagues. Even now, with one of the hottest bats in the game, he continues to come to the park early every day, taking swings off the tee and hitting some "flips" -- short underhanded tosses -- in the cages before his turn in the field and in regular batting practice. He works daily with Boston hitting coach Dave Magadan.
During the worst times in April, Pedroia would talk to former teammates who knew him and knew his swing, looking for a little help and maybe a little sympathy. "They knew what I'd done in the minor leagues, and what I've done my whole life,'" Pedroia says. "They were laughing. They think it's funny. You know, 'It happens every year.' But to me, it wasn't funny. It's my life. I take it personally. My job is my life."
Pedroia will admit to trying too hard that first month, to jumping at pitches and trying to rip balls that he maybe should have just poked the other way for a base hit. If there's one moment that he can identify as a possible turning point, it's when he finally stopped listening to the boos and the criticism.
"I just said, 'You know what? The hell with all these people.' These people are writing articles and everybody's reading it and thinking I'm a bad player, when in reality, they don't even know who I am," Pedroia says. "So, I stopped thinking about them and got into a, 'I don't really care,' and went with that attitude. And I've been performing ever since.
"Now it feels good to show them that I can play. Now, they're kind of on the bandwagon."
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