Red-hot Pedroia becoming a force at the plate

  • Peter Pascarelli [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN | July 20, 2008

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The whole idea of chronicling streaks is nothing more than underlining an arbitrarily chosen slice of a season to prove a point -- negative or positive -- about a player, a team, a trend or whatever suits a statistician's obsession.

But all streaks are not created equal -- which brings us to both Dustin Pedroia, the Boston Red Sox's All-Star second baseman, and Jason Varitek, Boston's All-Star catcher.

SUNDAY NIGHT BASEBALL
Red Sox at Angels
Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Anaheim, Calif.
6 p.m. ET, ESPN
• PLAY-BY-PLAY: Jon Miller
• ANALYST: Joe Morgan
• REPORTER: Peter Gammons
In the positive corner is Pedroia, who is as hot as a major league hitter can get. And in the negative vein, there's Varitek, whose ongoing struggles at the plate require a word stronger than "slump."

After just a season and a half, Pedroia seems like he's been in Boston forever. On a team of considerable age that is yet becoming younger, Pedroia has all the look of becoming a Derek Jeter-like leader for the next generation of Red Sox. Pedroia doesn't have Jeter's natural ability and grace, but he uses dogged intensity and his love of the game to do the same thing Jeter has done for more than a decade in New York -- be a daily role model for how a Yankee is supposed to play.

It was interesting Tuesday to watch the American League dugout throughout a long night at the All-Star Game, and see how Pedroia constantly gravitated to Jeter, who like most of the AL players (the exceptions including Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki and Jonathan Papelbon), remained in the dugout after being removed from the game and spent the rest of the night rooting from the top step.

"He's been a star for a long time and someone who has always played the game right," Pedroia said of the Yankees' captain. "I don't have his ability, but I learn an awful lot by just watching him. And having this chance in my first All-Star Game to have a chance to be a teammate, I tried to soak up as much as I could."

Jeter, however, has rarely been as hot as Pedroia is right now. Entering Sunday's game, in which the Angels seek a series sweep of the Red Sox, Pedroia has hit safely in 21 of his past 22 games. He's had two or more hits in four consecutive games and in eight of his past 11 games. Stretching his performance over the past 29 games, Pedroia is a stupendous 56 for his past 126, a .444 batting average. And for good measure, Pedroia enters Sunday's game with a 20-game hitting streak on the road.

Dustin Pedroia

Pedroia

Second Base
Boston Red Sox

Profile

2008 Season Stats
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
97 9 47 67 .362 .318

Pedroia is headed for a 200-hit season and has long ago convinced opponents he's for real after winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2007. "He's amazing, really," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

"People always talk about Pedroia being so scrappy and so good fundamentally and how he gets so much out of his ability, as if he's some kind of overachiever. And all that is true in some ways. But the fact is that this guy is a very good hitter. Nearly every ball he hits is hit hard. And he gets to fastballs that few guys in the majors can turn around."

As for Varitek, his batting slide has reached epic proportions. Another hitless day Saturday left Varitek with a parade of grim "streak" numbers: 0-for-5 since the break; 9 for his past 79; and over the past 41 games, he's 18-for-133 (.136) with one home run.

Varitek did draw two walks Saturday, showing better patience after having a recent high rate of strikeouts and a microscopic on-base percentage.

"Sometimes the best thing is to not swing the bat for a few days, and Tek had to be helped by not having any at-bats over the break," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We need him in our lineup because of all he does with our pitching. And you have to keep thinking that a guy with his track record is going to start getting some hits."

Francona, interestingly, pinch hit for Varitek in the All-Star Game, perhaps to save his catcher the embarrassment of having his awful offensive numbers displayed to the audience.

And Varitek won't be in the lineup in tonight's game, because Tim Wakefield will be the Red Sox's starting pitcher and the knuckleballer is always caught by backup Kevin Cash.

Jon Garland, who had his scheduled start moved back a day due to a stiff neck, will start for the Angels. L.A. has rolled to an eight-game lead in the AL West and is perhaps headed to another playoff meeting with Boston, which has won all nine of the past postseason games it has played against the Angels.

Peter Pascarelli is the lead researcher for "Sunday Night Baseball." He will preview each Sunday night game all season long. He is also co-host of the Baseball Today podcast, which runs Monday through Friday on ESPN.com.

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