The Opening Day staredown between Dustin Pedroia and Orioles starter Chris Tillman lasted 11 pitches, and in the end the wind came out the victor.
But with every pitch Pedroia fouled off in the fifth inning — and he burned off seven of Tillman’s best offerings in a row — it was like Pedroia was proving a point.
When Tillman fed him a cutter away, Pedroia popped it into the seats.
When he tried to get Pedroia to chase a slider out of the zone, Pedroia reached out and slapped it to the brick backstop at Camden Yards.
When he brushed the black with a fastball, Pedroia shot it down the first base line, barely foul.
When Tillman threw the first of three changeups, Pedroia bounced it by the Red Sox dugout.
Tillman emptied out every pitch in his pockets trying to put Pedroia away, but Pedroia stretched the at-bat until he finally got another fastball.
“I’m always sitting fastball, man,” he said.
Pedroia’s eyes lit up on the 11th pitch and he shot it out to the Southwest Airlines sign in right-center field. An angry 19-mile-per-hour wind kept it in the park.
“That was all I got,” Pedroia said. “When Adam Jones starts chasing the ball down, if it’s in the yard, he’s probably going to catch it.”
On the scorecard, it went down as an empty trip to the plate. But in reality, it was one in a string of quality at-bats for Pedroia to start the year.
He went 2 for 5 in the opener and 4 for 5 in Wednesday’s win, his first four-hit game since Aug. 23, 2012.
The reason Pedroia has started so hot?
“He’s healthy, for one,” manager John Farrell said.
Last season, Pedroia batted .301 despite playing with a torn ligament in his thumb since Opening Day.
After undergoing surgery two weeks after the Sox’ World Series victory last fall, Pedroia is pain-free.
In spring training, Pedroia hit .288 with 4 doubles, a homer, and 8 RBIs, but what Farrell took note of was Pedroia’s bat speed and plate coverage.
“We saw the swing in spring training with his normal bat speed, so he’s better able to handle pitches in different spots where he’s not restricted by the thumb,” Farrell said.
The Sox’ 2-3-4 hitters (Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Mike Napoli) combined to go 11 for 25 with six RBIs in the first two games, with Pedroia spraying the ball to all fields while hitting .600.
“We’re just trying to do what we do, not put too much pressure on ourselves,” Pedroia said. “My job is to get on for them. Whatever the situation is — if they need to hit a fly ball, drive us in, whatever — they’re really good hitters, not just home run hitters. We’ve got a good, deep lineup, swung the bats good, got to continue to do that.”
Pedroia has hit better than .300 in four of his eight full seasons, but has done it back-to-back just once (2007-08). With good health, Farrell was bullish on Pedroia’s potential to put up big numbers this season.
“I can’t say we’re surprised because this is a guy that’s a career .300 hitter and he’s finding some holes as well,” Farrell said. “He’s primed to have a very good year.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.