The ball popped off of Joc Pederson’s bat, a meandering missile headed for the first row of Dodger Stadium’s left-field pavilion.
Pederson could not immediately believe he had hit another World Series home run, his third, in the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory in Tuesday’s Game 6. And he showed it on his rambling path around the bases. He yelled, he banged both fists on his chest, and he made gestures about money owed to him.
“You kind of black out in a situation like that,” Pederson said. “A lot of emotions hit me quickly.”
Two years after nearly winning the Home Run Derby, Pederson spent the end of this summer in purgatory, triple-A Oklahoma City, where hit .143. The once-firm premise that he could contribute to the Dodgers’ championship aspirations became preposterous. The team elected to carry struggling reliever Pedro Baez instead of him during the National League division series.
He made the next round’s roster and doubled in his lone start. Now, playing a part-time role, Pederson leads the Dodgers in World Series homers and shares the team lead in doubles. Much like Yasiel Puig’s more publicized triple-A stint a year ago, the player and the team attribute subsequent success to the demotion.
“I needed to go learn how to hit, basically,” Pederson said. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s encouraging to see some of the process and all of the hard work turn into some results in the game.”
Last week, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts recalled that Pederson this season required “clear changes” to his game and his off-the-field approach. Upon his August demotion, those changes were stated to him. Roberts said Pederson “took the challenge.” He vacated his locker at Detroit’s Comerica Park and flew to Colorado Springs to meet the triple-A team.
The results were not great, but Pederson limited his strikeouts, perhaps the biggest flaw in his game. When he returned to the Dodgers in September, playing time did not flow his way. He went a week without a start. But Pederson began to carry more appeal as the man acquired to replace him, Curtis Granderson, continued to struggle.
“I think that his ability to stay the course and focus on things that he can control have helped him grow as a major league baseball player,” Roberts said. “And to his credit, he didn’t jump ship. I give all the credit to Joc and his growth. You’re always trying to challenge guys to get better and not be complacent.”
Pederson, still only 25, has completed the trajectory. He was once essential, then discarded, and is now again necessary.
“He continues to amaze us and put together good at-bats,” Roberts said Tuesday.
The last Dodger to hit three home runs in one World Series was Davey Lopes, in 1978. The last Dodger to hit more was Duke Snider, in 1955. In World Series history, only three players have ever managed five or more extra-base hits and no singles in one series. Pederson is one, as is his teammate, Chase Utley.
The left-handed-hitting Pederson had hit only one home run to left field this year, on July 24.
When he was a feared power hitter, he hammered homers to left and left-center on a regular basis. No doubt noticing that change, unnamed teammates attempted to entice him by offering a reward for an opposite-field home run.
Intentionally or not, Pederson did it. After he rounded third, he locked eyes with the dugout and twice made the international symbol for money. Third baseman Justin Turner, the prime candidate for such an offer, would say only that he might have been responsible. Pederson was as cagey.
“I’ve been struggling all year trying to use the whole field,” he said. “So people are trying to get me encouraged to using the whole field. I’m not very good at it, so it was relieving.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura