On a Los Angeles Dodgers team that sailed through much of the 2017 season, Joc Pederson was the guy who nearly sunk. On a team where young stars delivered and surprising stars emerged, he was the guy shoved so far into the background that his last regular-season home run came against a team from Texas.
Round Rock, Texas, that is—the home of the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate.
The Dodgers were supposed to be here, in the World Series and even in Game 7 Wednesday night. Pederson was not, unless he was just going to be leading cheers.
He can still do that. Or didn't you see him pounding his chest, waving his arms, twisting and turning and almost floating through the air in the seventh inning of the Dodgers' 3-1 win over the Houston Astros in Game 6?
Of course you saw him. Everyone saw him as he rounded the bases after his third home run of this World Series. Everyone is seeing him, everyone is hearing him and everyone is starting to understand that right now, it's hard to describe the Dodgers without a few loud words about (and maybe from) Pederson.
You like that?
It's been easy to like this whole World Series, although if you're a fan of one of the two teams involved, there certainly have been moments that made you want to scream in agony. For every one of them, though, there's been a moment that made you want to scream in exhilaration, to shout the way Pederson shouted after his home run last Saturday night in Houston.
"You like that!"
Maybe it had something to do with Kirk Cousins, maybe it didn't. Pederson said he sort of blacked out and didn't remember what he said or why, just as he said Tuesday he blacked out and didn't remember putting his fingers together and mouthing the words "Pay me!" towards the Dodgers dugout after his opposite-field home run.
"Yeah, emotions run high," he said in his postgame press conference. "So I'm going to rewatch it to see what I did."
He'll see it again, see it for years if the Dodgers win Game 7. It wasn't the hit that won Game 6, but the home run and Pederson's reaction symbolized what this Dodgers team has become. They're a team that has embraced Yasiel Puig's eccentricity, a team that didn't flinch when Puig guaranteed there would be a Game 7 after the Dodgers fell behind three games to two Sunday night. They're a team sure enough of itself that closer Kenley Jansen told Fox reporter Ken Rosenthal the Astros would have "no shot" in a Game 7, even before the Dodgers forced the decisive game.
Pederson may not have made the Dodgers what they are, but in some ways, he might represent what they are. They're confident, and when they get knocked down a little, they seem to bounce back up.
He got knocked down a lot, dropped from the lineup, sent to the minor leagues in August, left mostly on the bench when he returned and left off the roster for the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even when Pederson was back on the roster for the National League Championship Series, he started just one of the five games against the Chicago Cubs.
And now here he is, set to be one of the stars if the Dodgers can finish this off and win a World Series for the first time since 1988. He has three home runs, as many as anyone on either team aside from Astros center fielder George Springer. He's driven in five runs, as many as anyone on either team.
His "You like that! You like that!" scream will be replayed over and over if the Dodgers finish this off. His trip around the bases after Tuesday's home run will be replayed plenty of times, too, in all of its chest-pounding, arms-waving glory. Pederson wasn't the guy who gave the Dodgers the lead—they were already up 2-1 before he connected off Joe Musgrove—but he was the guy who gave them their moment.
There have been so many of them in this World Series, enough to make it a classic even before Game 7. There will be even more, because something eventually must separate these two 100-plus-win teams.
It began a week ago with the Dodgers winning 3-1 in Game 1, with Pederson sitting on the bench and still expected to play just a small part. It picked up steam the next night, when Pederson's fifth-inning home run was the first Dodgers hit off Justin Verlander and just the first of the eight home runs the two teams would hit in Game 2.
The Astros won Game 3 but the Dodgers came back in Game 4, with a five-run ninth inning that included another Pederson home run. Then came the wild 13-12 Astros win in Game 5, and Tuesday's Dodgers win to even up the series at three games apiece.
Through it all, Pederson has five hits—the three home runs and two doubles. He also has six strikeouts in his 14 at-bats, no surprise for anyone who has followed his career. The Dodgers got tired of the strikeouts and the inconsistency, but manager Dave Roberts said in his postgame press conference Tuesday that he loved the way Pederson worked hard and earned his way back.
"And he continues to amaze us and put together good at-bats," Roberts said.
Or maybe it just comes down to what Alex Rodriguez said on the Fox postgame show.
"I think I struggled [in the postseason] because I overthought things," Rodriguez said. "Joc Pederson never thinks."
He doesn't have to. He just has to hit and then float around the bases. If he does it again Wednesday, you can bet all the Dodgers will be joining him.
They'd like that.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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