HOUSTON — Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernández celebrated a World Series championship with the Los Angeles Dodgers a year ago Wednesday.
Both came off the bench in the Game 6 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays, Hernández as a defensive replacement at second base in the eighth inning and Pederson as a pinch hitter in the seventh.
As part-time players on a roster loaded with talent, Pederson and Hernández sought greater opportunities via free agency once the celebrations had ended.
“The Dodgers have so many players and more coming in the minors. That’s great. But at the same time you want to get a chance to play more,” Pederson said before starting in right field for the Atlanta Braves in a 7-2 loss against the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the Series on Wednesday night.
Pederson, who struggled at the plate in 2020, agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. When the Cubs fell out of contention he was traded to the Braves on July 15,
Hernández took a two-year, $14 million contract with the Red Sox and was a driving force in helping the team advance to the ALCS.
Over 585 plate appearances — 123 more than his previous career high — Hernández had a .786 OPS with 58 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs, and 84 runs.
“I knew he was capable of that,” Pederson said. “Kiké has always had the talent. The Red Sox gave him the opportunity and he showed what he could do.”
As the Sox put their roster together for 2022, Hernández’s defensive versatility is an asset. He can play center field, second base or most anywhere else.
The Red Sox intended to use Hernández as primarily a second baseman this season. But he started 81 games in center and was one of the best defenders at that position in the game.
“I honestly believe he could win a Gold Glove at any position,” Pederson said. “He has the athletic ability and his instincts are amazing. He’s one of those guys you really could play anywhere. That always impressed me about him.”
Pederson also sees Alex Verdugo as being a big part of the future for the Sox. They played together from 2017-19 and became good friends.
“Dugie can hit .300 with 25 homers once he puts it together. He has a lot of talent,” Pederson said. “Getting traded to the Red Sox will be one of the best things that happened to him.”
Verdugo has hit .290 with a .791 OPS in two seasons with the Sox after being part of the Mookie Betts trade. He struggled against lefthanders this season (.228 with a .554 OPS) after crushing them (.320 with a .791 OPS) in 2020, albeit with a smaller sample size.
“I feel like Dugie is still figuring out who he is as a player and what he’s capable of,” Pederson said. “He’s still young (25) and learning the game. He has a lot of talent.”
Pederson, 29, has had an interesting journey since leaving the Dodgers. He was getting regular playing time as a corner outfielder for the Cubs and didn’t expect to be traded.
But the Braves pushed to acquire him, even though they were 44-45 at the time.
Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, and Adam Duvall gave the lineup a midseason boost that pushed the Braves to their fourth consecutive National League East title.
They have since upset the Brewers and Dodgers to get to the Series.
Pederson was 0 for 4 Wednesday but has three home runs and nine RBIs in the postseason.
“It’s been a blast,” he said. “I’ve got a chance to win the World Series again. I’ve loved playing for the Braves.”
Pederson, like Verdugo, has a unique sense of style. He has been sporting a string of chunky pearls during the postseason, a special order from his jeweler.
It’s a look you might expect from grandma, not a big leaguer. But Pederson manages to pull it off.
A group of male fans wearing plastic pearl necklaces behind the visitors’ dugout for the first two games at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s been good for the mojo,” Pederson said. “Whatever works.”
The Astros evened the series, 1-1, by taking a 5-1 lead with four runs in the second inning. They used five singles, an error, and a wild pitch to build a lead the Braves didn’t challenge.
The rest of the game had a perfunctory feel to it. But it was just what Houston needed.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.