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Dan Shaughnessy

Pedroia has become a safe bet

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 22, 2008

SEATTLE - Maybe we should overreact and just say that Dustin Pedroia is morphing into Boston's Pete Rose.

That's Pete Rose - without the switch hitting, without the boys' regular haircut, without the betting slips.

Pedroia has emerged as a second baseman who can get 200 hits and win a batting title. Like Pete Rose.

It makes no sense. Pedroia lives in a body that would get sand kicked in his face at Nantasket Beach. The press guide says he's 5 feet 9 inches, but that's a lie. This kid is a virtual end table. Wes Welker could eat candy off Pedroia's head.

Only 24 years old, Pedroia's already got the hairline of Rudy Giuliani. He's going to look 40 before he hits 30.

Then there's the swing. Pedroia swings the bat like a blindfolded 6-year-old trying to bust a piñata. He swings the bat harder than Vlad Guerrero. Yet he almost never swings and misses and rarely strikes out. He just gets hits. Bundles of base hits.

Pedroia's summer Hit Tour Across America moved to the Pacific Northwest last night as the Red Sox opened a three-game series at Safeco Field against the Mariners.

Boston's diminutive Hit Doctor is batting .320 (third in the American League) with 132 hits. He's hit safely in 23 of his last 24 games, batting .444 with 5 homers, 13 doubles, 18 RBIs, and 29 runs in his last 31 games. He leads the league with 41 multiple-hit games, and had his run of five straight multihit games broken last night. With a first-inning single against Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn, he's hit in 22 straight road games.

Everything about him flies in the face of everything we thought we knew. Count me among those who believed Pedroia would not be able to succeed at the big league level. Now I'm beginning to think he might be the greatest hitter in the history of baseball.

Remember when "Seinfeld's" George Costanza was hired by the Yankees? There's a hilarious scene in which Jerry and George cite all the Pinstripe greats, a routine that goes something like, "Ruth . . . Gehrig . . . DiMaggio . . . Mantle . . . Costanza."

Now we have the greatest hitters of all time, "Cobb . . . Hornsby . . . Williams . . . Aaron . . . Mays . . . Pedroia."

Theo Epstein and his minions get tons of credit on this one. Not many organizations would have taken a chance on such an unusual prospect.

Sure, Pedroia excelled at the highest level of NCAA baseball (.384 in three seasons at Arizona State), but it would have been easy to dismiss him as a nice little college player with stats artificially inflated by aluminum bats.

No. The Sox saw the potential for greatness at the big league level. And now they are being rewarded.

It didn't happen overnight. Pedroia looked awful when he got his first taste of big league ball at the end of the 2006 season. He was a doughy 192 pounds, hit .191 in 31 games, and confirmed the quickie analysis of those who predicted failure.

Boston's baseball ops forces never wavered. The Sox let Mark Loretta go after the 2006 season and gave the second base job to Pedroia. He came to Fort Myers 20 pounds lighter, struggled early in the season, then found his stride and won the Rookie of the Year Award. He crashed a home run in his first World Series at-bat. Now he is the hottest hitter in baseball.

How? How does he swing so hard, yet not get fooled by offspeed stuff? How does he manage to hit everything on the screws with that ridiculous swing?

"He's got remarkable hand-eye coordination," Epstein said. "That allows him to take a really big swing, but consistently barrel-up the ball. He hits everything on the barrel. Even in batting practice, it's line drive after line drive after line drive. One little sweet spot on the bat. And he takes that into the game. He's got unbelievable pitch recognition, great hand-eye, and he can take the big swing, but have the same type of bat control that guys have with much smaller swings and a two-strike approach.

"He's almost like [Gary] Sheffield that way. He can take a swing that some people see as out of control or too big, but it's just right for him because he sees the ball so well. I just think he's a great hitter. It's not really surprising. He hits a fastball as well as anybody, but he sees the ball out of the hand so well that he rarely swings and misses on breaking stuff."

Pedroia disputes the notion that he swings out of his shoes.

"It might appear that I take a real big swing," he said. "I'm real violent through the zone. I'm ready, everything's quiet. It might look violent, but I swing short, short to the ball, which helps me. I get my power because I use my whole body and it makes people who watch think I'm swinging for the fences every time. In reality, I'm really not. I'm trying to hit the ball the other way and keep my swing short. But I've got really short arms, so it probably looks like I'm taking a bigger swing than I really am."

Early in his career, macho pitchers would look at Pedroia and try to blow him away with high octane - which is exactly what he wants. Now they throw him more junk and he is able to adjust.

"If I get a pitch to hit, I usually don't miss it," he said.

"No one should be surprised he turned into a great player," Epstein said. "Every time we sent him to a new level, the manager would call and say, 'I think you sent the wrong guy' and then 24 hours later we'd get another voicemail - 'Well, he smoked four balls tonight.' There was always skepticism for about 24 hours.

"I remember one day in May of 2007, Tito said, 'You know I've never seen this guy play well.' But he didn't say 'let's get rid of him.' He said, 'I can't wait until I see what all you guys saw.' "

The whole baseball world sees it now. Dustin Pedroia: the new Pete Rose.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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