PHILADELPHIA — The little man played big.
Dustin Pedroia went 3 for 5 with two home runs against one of the best pitchers in baseball (Cole Hamels) in the Red Sox’ 8-0 Opening Day win Monday against the Phillies, the worst team in baseball.
He also made a spectacular defensive play on a grounder smoked to second base.
Pedroia, whose OPS has tumbled the last four years, mostly because of thumb and wrist injuries, seems healthy to start the 2015 campaign.
In his healthy years, Pedroia has produced. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007 and the American League Most Valuable Player award in 2008.
He’s a four-time All-Star and has won four Gold Gloves.
The fact that he had enough power in his hands to drill two balls into the left-field stands was proof that his health is back. It was only one game, yes, but still . . .
When healthy, Pedroia has power for a small player. He hit 21 homers and knocked in 91 runs in 2011. You wonder if he’s getting back there.
Pedroia certainly has a lot of pride, and he vowed that the “Laser Show” would return this season. It started with a .321 Grapefruit League average.
“Sometimes you get hurt and find a way to play through it,” Pedroia said. “Sometimes you get healthy, too. That’s the way I look at it. I’m back to being who I am.
“I could tell in the offseason I was healthy and getting back to normal. I really don’t listen to all the outside stuff. That’s for other people. I just concentrate on helping us win and go from there.”
Of course, Pedroia has had stupendous Opening Days in the past. He’s the only Red Sox player of the last 100 years who has hit safely in each of his first nine Opening Days. He started Monday’s game 13 for 33 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 5 RBIs on Opening Days.
And he’s always enjoyed hitting vs. Hamels. This reporter approached Pedroia during the workout Sunday and said, “You love hitting against Hamels, don’t you?” Pedroia just smiled.
Pedroia was 5 for 15 against him with a homer entering the game, even though Hamels had a 4-0 record with a 1.97 ERA against the Sox in five previous starts.
Pedroia helped break Hamels’s streak of 23 straight games of allowing three runs or fewer. Pedroia also continued to excel in interleague play. After his 3 for 5, he is hitting .337 (188 for 558) with 15 homers and 72 RBIs.
The conditions were just perfect for Pedroia in this bandbox, where the ball flies out. He set the tone for the game, for the day. That’s what he used to do.
On a 1-and-1 count in the first inning, Pedroia lined a pitch into the left-field seats, a waist-high fastball. In the fifth it was kaboom again, on a 1-and-1 fastball. It seemed Pedroia saw Hamels’s pitches as if they were beach balls. Then in the seventh, against reliever Jeanmar Gomez, Pedroia singled for his third hit.
Both homers were on pitches above the belt. Last year, Pedroia got 115 pitches above the belt and hit only one out on balls he put in play, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
“Just trying to have a good at-bat,” Pedroia said. “Obviously Cole is one of the best pitchers in the game, so I just tried to get a pitch I could handle and I did.
“It was nice to get off to a good start and let everyone take a deep breath.”
The defensive play was typical Pedroia. Cody Asche smoked a ground ball in the seventh that should have gone past Pedroia into right field. But Pedroia captured the hot shot and got the force. He also robbed Andres Blanco in the eighth with a diving stop.
“[Asche] hit it hard,” Pedroia said. “A lot of topspin. I was just trying to catch it. It was just going pretty fast.”
The defensive stuff has been routine for Pedroia, even during the down times offensively. But when Pedroia matches them up, what a player. And that’s why he got such a long-term deal from the Red Sox — an eight-year extension worth $110 million.
“I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody, just to my teammates,” he said. “I could care less what everyone else says. If my name is in the lineup, which I think it will [be], I just want to win.”
The Red Sox recently went out and outbid the world for Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada.
Did they do it thinking Moncada was simply too good a player to pass up, or because they felt Pedroia was fading? Or both?
While Moncada likely will need at least two years of development in the minors, Pedroia will carry on with a contract that pays him until 2021. It’s hard to imagine Pedroia playing anywhere but second base given his Gold Glove pedigree. Of course, 2021 is a long time away. And this was just one game of 162.
It was Pedroia at his best — an offensive and defensive spark. The Pedroia we used to know.