Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Dustin Pedroia Show

Last night I attended my 6th game of 2008, and fourth at Fenway (I also saw the Dodgers beat the Padres at Dodger Stadium, and the Cubs lose to the Orioles at Wrigley). This time it was a game in the middle of a pennant race. The Red Sox had already been hammered by the Blue Jays 8-1 in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, and were counting on Bartolo Colon, of all people, to help earn the split. At the same time, the Rays were at Yankee Stadium trying to sweep the spoiler Yankees.

I hadn’t bought into the "Dustin Pedroia for MVP" hullabaloo until the past couple weeks. Last night, the logic became crystal clear to me, though if you don’t watch Pedroia on a regular basis, it might be hard to see why the kid deserves serious mention. He came into the nightcap with 197 hits, three short of 200. You can’t expect someone to have a 3-hit game on command, and certainly not against one of the hottest teams in the league. In the first inning, though, the Case for Pedey presented exhibits A and B.

After Jacoby Ellsbury leads off with a walk, Pedroia lines a ringing double off Jays’ starter Jesse Litsch to send Ellsbury to third. David Ortiz strikes out swinging, and now Kevin Youkilis is up. One out, and two men in scoring position. Then the fun begins. Litsch throws a wild pitch that ricochets off catcher Greg Zaun and trickles up the third base line. Ellsbury scores easily, but the amazing part was that Pedroia was still sprinting from second base. As Pedroia heads home, you could almost read Zaun’s mind. “Where the hell did HE come from?” Zaun hurriedly throws wide of Litsch at the plate, and without Youkilis having to do a damn thing, the Red Sox have a 2-0 lead. That’s how the inning ended, but Pedroia had already sent the same message that he broadcasts every game: pay close attention, because I’m not taking even a single pitch off. In some ways more than Youkilis, though less demonstrably, Pedroia is perpetually intense. The Red Sox list him at 5’9” and 180 pounds, but that’s pretty optimistic. He’s probably closer to 5’7”, and if he’s just had a few cheeseburgers and has lead weights in his cleats, maybe 170.

Fast forward to the 5th. After Colon barely survived a nightmare second inning, giving up 5 Blue Jay runs, the Sox are down 5-2, and look listless. Pedroia comes up with two outs and lines his second double of the game off the center field wall. At the time it was only the Red Sox third hit of the night. He ended up stranded at second, as Ortiz again struck out. However, that was hit # 199 on the season for Pedroia, and double #50. In Red Sox history, only two men had ever banged out 200 hits AND 50 doubles in the same season: Tris Speaker in 1912 and Wade Boggs in 1989. Pedroia was now one base hit away from doing something that Williams, Yastrzemski, Fisk, Rice, Carney Lansford, Nomar, Vaughan, Ramirez and Ortiz never accomplished. Pedroia already leads the majors (not just the American League) in hits and doubles. He leads the AL in batting average and runs, and trails only Aubrey Huff and Josh Hamilton in total bases. Now, he’s stalking Red Sox history.

Sure enough, up comes Pedroia in a pivotal moment in the bottom of the 8th, when the Red Sox would finally take the lead and win the game. Following Ellsbury’s 15-foor swinging bunt where Scott Downs fell on his face, unable to field the ball, therefore allowing Jed Lowrie to sprint home with the go-ahead run, Dustin Pedroia comes to the plate and lines a single.

Everyone in the park who hadn’t been keeping track figured it out when the news was posted on the center field scoreboard: Dustin Pedroia had gotten his 200th hit of 2008.

So on the evening for Pedroia, that’s 3 for 5, 2 doubles, 1 run scored, entering the Red Sox history book, and also turning the pivot on 3, count ‘em 3, double plays. This doesn’t even factor in his first inning hustle, scoring from second and jump-starting the evening’s offense. Apart from his stats, which are becoming gaudy, I’d posit that Dustin Pedroia, the 2007 Rookie of the Year, deserves to be voted the American League Most Valuable Player for the simple truth that he embodies the three words “Most Valuable Player” better than anyone else in baseball. Jason Varitek may be the captain, and Jon Lester may be the ace, but Dustin Pedroia IS the offensive sparkplug, as well as the heart and soul of his team, and has been since he stepped on the field in Fort Myers for the season’s first workouts. You can’t say that about Carlos Quentin in Chicago, Josh Hamilton in Texas, or any one player in Tampa Bay. Only Pedroia in Boston.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pedro for President!