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Pedroia is turning into a little monster

Boston's gritty second baseman stands about 5-6 and weighs perhaps 160, but he swings big and often gets big results.

October 23, 2007|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox media guide lists Dustin Pedroia at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds. The second baseman is closer to 5-6, and soaked in champagne from head to toe, he doesn't go a pound over 160.

But watch his mighty hacks from the leadoff spot, cuts that would make sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez blush, and the swagger with which he plays, and it's clear Pedroia carries himself like a guy swinging the big stick.

"He walks around like he's an Adonis instead of 5 foot 6," Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein said. "That's the way he looks at himself, and that's what makes him good."

Maybe that's why Pedroia lacks the kind of speed you expect from a gritty little leadoff man -- his whole life, he has run with a chip on his shoulder, from his youth league days in Woodland, Calif., to his decorated career at Arizona State, to his rise through the Red Sox minor league system, and during his rookie year in Boston.

"I have to be like that," Pedroia said Monday, the day after driving in five runs to help the Red Sox to an American League pennant-clinching 11-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in Fenway Park. "To play this game at this level, to be undersized, to have people doubt you all the time, you have to have an edge to you.

"I have to keep that, and I'll have it my whole career. There's always going to be people doubting you all the time. There's always one person out of 20 -- you can't prove everybody wrong -- so for that one person, I'm going to go out there and try to prove that person wrong too."

That never-ending process will continue Wednesday night when Pedroia and the Red Sox play the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series in Fenway Park.

But how will the 24-year-old muster enough venom to gain an edge? There were no doubters left after Pedroia went seven for 13 in the final three AL Championship Series games, all Red Sox victories, and slammed a two-run home run and a three-run double in his final two at-bats to help Boston pull away Sunday night.

He'll just have to think back five days, when he was three for 16 after four ALCS games, the Red Sox trailed the series, 3-1, and some media members, as well as many Boston fans, thought Pedroia should be benched in favor of Alex Cora.

"He was never down on himself," said Dave Magadan, the Red Sox batting coach. "He didn't like people in the media doubting him, and he probably used that as a rallying point for himself, but we as a staff knew it was a matter of time before he'd ignite us."

It was the same back in April, when Pedroia, who hit .228 during a September call-up in 2006, was handed the second base job out of spring training and hit .182 with two RBIs in the first month.

Cora got more starts, and many called for the veteran utility player to take over full-time at second.

Pedroia's response? He hit .415 with two homers and nine RBIs in May, laying the groundwork for a season in which he hit .317 with a .380 on-base percentage, 86 runs, 39 doubles, eight homers and 50 RBIs and emerged as a leading AL rookie-of-the-year candidate.

"He's outperformed most people's expectations," said Epstein, who was criticized for using a second-round pick in 2004 on Pedroia, a player with few tools. "In reality, he's doing things the way he did them in high school, college and the minor leagues. He's always been a performer. He's always played hard, with a lot of passion.

"Because of his size there's always skepticism about his ability to do it at the next level. But until they make another league somewhere, he's doing it at the highest level. It's a testament to his determination and his hand-eye coordination. He does have some physical limitations -- he's not big, he's not strong, he's not fast -- but he has an uncanny ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball while swinging hard."

Magadan does not want to mess with that ability. Pedroia, known in Boston as "The Little Rook That Could," has always swung hard, from Little League on up, and he knows of no other way to attack the ball, despite his occasional wild swings and misses.

He also loves chest-high pitches, pitches that usually result in foul balls or fly balls. "That's the purple zone, the power zone," Pedroia said. Sunday night he launched just such an offering from Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt over the Green Monster in left-center field for his two-run homer.

"He squares up as many balls as I've ever seen -- in the game, in batting practice, during soft toss, everything you throw him, he squares up," Magadan said. "He also does it with a maximum-effort swing, but he's short to the ball. He has a big swing but he's very short to the ball, which is very important. He has a big swing after contact, which is better than a big swing before contact."

The results, as America saw Sunday night, can be big after contact too. Pedroia led off Game 7 by ripping a single to left-center, his seventh-inning homer gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead and some breathing room, and his bases-loaded double in the eighth, a laser to left-center, blew open the game.

"I haven't got much sleep since we got down, 3-1, in the series," Pedroia said. "You go home, you try to sleep, and can't sleep because you're thinking about trying to find a way to win. This year's been so fun, I never want it to end. Everyone's thinking like that."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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