With Pedroia hot, Sox like their chances
Saturday's eruption a reminder of second baseman's spark
BOSTON -- It was starting to look like a riddle directed at the Red Sox's clubhouse: What's the difference between the team's regular-season lineup and its postseason production?
Until Saturday, the answer was Dustin Pedroia's bat.
The American League MVP Award candidate's numbers in October looked downright silly when compared to the laser show he put on for the first six months of the 2008 campaign. Terrorizing AL pitching, Pedroia finished the season first in runs (118), hits (213) and doubles (54), while finishing second in batting average (.326).
Still, heading into Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Rays on Saturday, Pedroia was batting a meager .100 -- including going 1-for-17 in the AL Division Series against the Angels.
All that changed in Boston's 9-8 loss in 11 innings at Tropicana Field, where Pedroia emphatically busted out of any type of slump he was in. He popped two home runs off Rays starter Scott Kazmir, going 3-for-5 with four runs and two RBIs at the plate.
Did he change his approach at all prior to Game 2?
"Not really," said Pedroia. "A couple hits have fallen in there for me. I hit the ball good in the first series, I just didn't get many hits. They'll come."
Apparently, he's right.
The 5-foot-9 spark plug was everything the Red Sox could've asked for throughout the regular season. After suffering through a similar slump in early June, Pedroia began pounding opposing pitching on a regular basis, starting with a 3-for-4 day against Philadelphia on June 16 and continuing through the end of the regular season.
He hit in any position in the batting order that was necessary -- even if it meant batting cleanup when Kevin Youkilis was out of the lineup in late-August. And despite his size, the All-Star second baseman, who looks more like a bat boy than a cleanup hitter, was even intentionally walked by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen in August.
Guillen infamously said after that game he never thought he'd "walk a jockey." But given just how effective Pedroia was all season long, can you really blame him?
"He was a big part of our lineup, and he was our MVP for the season," left fielder Jason Bay said. "But I think it just goes to show that when some guys aren't hitting and doing what they normally do, we can still win ballgames."
That's the part about this situation that might by scary for the Rays during the remainder of this series. Boston is 4-2 this postseason despite Pedroia batting a mere .200.
If Pedroia -- who Bay regularly called the "Energizer Bunny" in the final two months of the regular season -- gets hot, it could be difficult to overcome this tricky Red Sox lineup.
"It was good for him [to have a strong Game 2 performance]," Bay said. "The bottom line is he wasn't doing very much, and he'll admit to that. But we were still winning."
With Game 3 at Fenway Park on Monday, Pedroia certainly knows the hits and success he had on Saturday are always right there for the taking. When he's not reaching base, it's certainly not for a lack of effort.
It's a matter of finding holes in the outfield and driving the ball hard.
"I'll stick to my approach, and they'll fall in for me," Pedroia said.
There's no doubt this Red Sox team is potent enough from the leadoff spot to the ninth hitter to overcome one player slumping and still win games. They proved it in a 3-1 series win against the Angels, doing so against the only team in the Majors to win 100 games while their young MVP candidate wasn't reaching base.
Still, there's no doubt the team thrives when Pedroia is reaching base and scoring runs.
After Saturday's onslaught, he might be out of his slump and back to those antics he displayed all season at the plate.
"And I think that's the silver lining," Bay said. "We knew he was going to come out of it."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.