Little man comes up big
Pedroia sparks Red Sox to World Series appearance
Posted: Monday October 22, 2007 3:06AM; Updated: Monday October 22, 2007 9:13AM
BOSTON -- Nobody knows about being down, in a baseball sense of the term, more than Dustin Pedroia. Boston's bantamweight second baseman has been doubted and booed and dismissed ever since he was a little guy. Or, if you refuse to give the 5-foot-9 rookie a break, a littler guy.
But Pedroia, like the Red Sox, simply doesn't know how to stay down. It's not in his nature. It's not in their nature. And so it was, on a warm October night in New England, Pedroia rose up, as he has so many times in his life and during this wondrous breakout season of his, put the Sox on his shoulders -- they're broader than you might think -- and marched them through Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and straight into another World Series.
Yes, for the second time in four years, the formerly folding Sox are headed to the Series, courtesy of an 11-2 blowout of the Indians in Game 7 of the ALCS. It was a game and a series that, as late as the seventh inning Sunday, really could have gone in either direction. And then Pedroia took control with a game-defining two-run home run, putting an exclamation point to a personal postseason comeback and sealing another postseason bounceback for the Sox.
Afterward, among the smoke clouds and champagne spray of a Sox celebration, Pedroia soaked in the highlight of his still-nascent career.
"I'm tired, man," he told a pressing semi-circle of reporters in the Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park. "I've been locked in for so long, I haven't really had the opportunity to sit back and enjoy it."
Pedroia and the Sox have only a couple of days to blow out this win before they settle down to business again, hosting the surprising Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series here on Wednesday night. They started their pre-Series soiree in grand fashion late Sunday, partying on the field at Fenway well past midnight, carrying around the AL trophy and generally enjoying another series win that, just four days ago, seemed almost impossible.
The Indians, who won 96 games this season, had a 3-1 lead in the ALCS after Game 4 in Cleveland last Tuesday and looked, with their two big-name pitchers ready to go, poised to pounce. But after a seven-run fifth inning in Game 4, the Indians' offense collapsed in a shuddering heap, scoring just five runs in its final 30 innings. A 3-1 lead shrunk to 3-2 on a Game 5 gem by Boston's Josh Beckett, the ALCS Most Valuable Player, and Saturday night the Sox tied the series with a 12-2 blowout.
Sunday, with controversy swirling around the Indians off the field (news reports revealed that Game 4 hero Paul Byrd had used human growth hormone), the Sox held a slim 3-2 lead when the game turned in the seventh. Pedroia wiggled his way into making a difference in both halves of the inning.
In the top half, Indians third base coach Joel Skinner made the unfathomable choice to hold speedy Kenny Lofton at third base on a hit to left. The next batter, Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake, bounced to third baseman Mike Lowell, who fed Pedroia at second, who in turn made a perfect turn to nail Blake at first to complete an inning-ending double play.
"We practiced all year for that double play," Pedroia said.
In the bottom of the inning, Blake inexplicably booted Jacoby Ellsbury's easy high hopper to his backhand side. After shortstop Julio Lugo sacrificed Ellsbury to third, Pedroia stepped to the plate for the game-deciding big fly.
It might have been, if you don't know Pedroia, completely unexpected. Through the first four games of the series, Pedroia had been, simply put, awful. He had just three hits in 16 at-bats (.188). He had struck out five times. He didn't have an extra-base hit.
Starting slow, though, is nothing new to the 23-year-old. Pedroia won the starting job at second base in spring training this year, went into the season with the confidence of a 10-year veteran -- and then hit .182 in April. Fans at Fenway booed him. Talk shows cried for Boston manager Terry Francona to go with the hotter hitter at the time, Alex Cora.