They began the season as can’t-miss Red Sox prospects who were looking to make an impression during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. By season’s end, they had made quite an impression, indeed. While their careers might have been on the launching pad in February, there was no denying the postseason sent second baseman Dustin Pedroia and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury rocketing toward stardom.
Pedroia and Ellsbury.
Ellsbury and Pedroia.
It didn’t matter who got top billing. The bottom line was that the spark this talented pair of 24-year-olds provided in the postseason was integral to the Sox’ World Series sweep.
Who can forget the leadoff homer Pedroia hit in Game 1, the first salvo of a 13-1 romp over the Rockies? Or the four hits, including three doubles, Ellsbury had out of the leadoff spot in Game 3? Or the wondrous defensive plays both made, Pedroia turning the difficult into routine outs and Ellsbury ranging cavernous Coors Field to make catches such as the one in left on Jamey Carroll’s warning-track fly in the ninth of Game 4?
”I think the organization did a great job with all of us, preparing us at each level,” Pedroia said before the clinching 4-3 triumph in Game 4. “I think it helps out when you all get called up together because we’ve been through a lot of things. We played Double A together, Triple A, and now here. So I think everybody is comfortable with each other, and it makes it that much more special.”
The good news? They’ll be back next year as seasoned sophomores (though Ellsbury technically will still be a rookie) as part of a rosy future for the Sox.
Throughout the postseason, at least in the opinion of manager Terry Francona, Ellsbury and Pedroia carried themselves with the aplomb of veterans.
”I know they are [rookies], but they’re not,” Francona said. “Pedroia has been with us all year. He’s a veteran. Ellsbury, we brought him in a situation that was kind of difficult, starting him in Game 6 against Cleveland [in the American League Championship Series]. He plays with a lot of confidence, and there’s a reason: He’s a good player and he’s aware of the situations around him. He prepares. So it’s not just false bravado or acting like he’s confident. He should be confident. He’s a good player and he knows how to play the game.”
It was a Fall Classic like no other that made household names of Ellsbury, a speedy rookie of Navajo descent from Madras, Ore., who began the season in Double A and ended it by hitting .438 (7 for 16, 4 runs, 4 doubles, 3 RBIs) in the World Series, and Pedroia, the 5-foot-9-inch infielder from Sacramento who hit .278 in the Series (5 for 18, 4 runs, 9 total bases, 1 double, 1 triple, 4 RBIs) and whose 12 runs scored in the postseason tied the rookie record Derek Jeter set in 1996.
”Part of the reason they’re so good is they do have the ability to make adjustments,” Francona said. “With Ellsbury, with his speed; Pedroia with the ability to go to right field. If you want to pitch him in, sometimes he’ll turn that ball. But they both understand how to play.”
The bat Ellsbury used in his 4-for-5 effort in Game 3 and the bat Pedroia used for his leadoff homer in Game 1 were donated to the Hall of Fame as part of an exhibit paying tribute to the World Series victory.
”In this culture, a guy goes 3 for 4 in his first game and they’re ready to take him to Cooperstown,” Francona said of Ellsbury. “He’s got a chance to be a great player. He does a lot of things. He can really run. We don’t know if he’s going to hit for power. He doesn’t hit but a couple of home runs in the minor leagues, and then he comes up here and he hits a few right away.
”But I think the biggest thing of all, Allard Baird said in one of our meetings: ‘This kid has survival skills.’ I think what he meant by that is he’s kind of like a Pedroia; he’s not up here for the ride, he’s up here to win.
”When you get a young player like that, that’s pretty special.”
But two of ‘em? That’s doubly special.
When Francona unveiled his lineup for Game 3 at Coors Field - with Ellsbury in center and hitting in the leadoff spot and Pedroia hitting second in front of David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and Mike Lowell, the eventual World Series MVP - it gave Red Sox Nation an exciting glimpse of the future.
The first set of rookies to hit 1-2 in World Series history, Ellsbury and Pedroia combined to go 7 for 10, scoring three runs and driving in four in a 10-5 victory. Ellsbury hit three doubles and became only the third rookie in Series history to record four hits in a game, joining Fred Lindstrom (1924, Game 5, New York Giants) and Joe Garagiola (1946, Game 4, St. Louis Cardinals).
”The thing is, with our lineup, I feel like I just have to get on base,” said Ellsbury, who started the season with Portland, earned a promotion to Triple A Pawtucket, and had a brief stay in the majors before a September call-up that earned him a spot on the postseason roster. “With Dustin behind me, he’s been playing so great, he’s going to do the job. He’s going to move runners, and with David and Manny behind, and Mike Lowell as well, you’ve got to like your chances when you get on.”
The potent 1-2 combination of Ellsbury and Pedroia gives Francona more options next season.
”I’m sure there’s a lot of people in our player development [who] are pretty proud right now, as they should be,” Francona said before Game 4 when asked about having such youthful talent. “We’re the ones that get to stand up there and talk about the young kids, but the player development people, they’re the ones who spend all the time with them, [and] they’ve done a great job.”