Pederson credits special-needs brother for humble outlook
By Barry M. Bloom
LOS ANGELES -- Joc Pederson is playing this World Series with uncommon exuberance. But he says his sudden re-emergence after a season of struggles pales in comparison to the relationship he has with his older brother, Champ, who was seated by his side in the interview room on Tuesday night.
Prancing around the bases after hitting his third homer of the best-of-seven Series into the left-field pavilion during Los Angeles' 3-1 win in Game 6 at Dodger Stadium, Pederson pounded his chest with his fists and pumped his arms skyward while rounding second base.
"Yeah, emotions run high," Pederson said. "You kind of black out in a situation like that. So I'm going to have to rewatch it to see what I did."
The seventh-inning blast off Astros reliever Joe Musgrove gave the Dodgers a key insurance run as they sent the Series spinning into a winner-take-all seventh game on Wednesday.
Pederson's season on the brink has been well-chronicled. His struggles at the plate and demotion to the Minor Leagues. His re-emergence at the right time in the World Series has been spectacular. He's 5-for-14 with three homers, two doubles and five RBIs.
Champ, 30, was born with Down syndrome and is a constant reminder to his younger brother that life is fragile and baseball is only a game -- although quite an intense affair at this time of year when the stakes are so high.
"He keeps me humble and makes me realize that it's just a baseball game and there's a lot more to life, too," Pederson said. "And he always has a smile on his face, even through stressful situations. So I'm thankful to have him in my life."
Pederson wasn't even on the Dodgers' roster for their three-game sweep of the D-backs in the National League Division Series. He was active in the NL Championship Series, which the Dodgers won over the Cubs in five games and was used sparingly, going 1-for-5.
Now, Pederson has joined Duke Snider (1952 and '55), Reggie Smith ('77) and Davey Lopes ('78) as the only players in Dodgers history to go deep three times in a single Fall Classic.
So excuse him for all the showmanship when he hits a World Series home run.
"The validation, that ship sailed," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "We knew that he earned it and made sense for our roster. And so he continues to come out with big hits. And that one right there, that was a huge hit by Joc. He continues to amaze us and put together good at-bats."
Like Pederson, his father, Stu, was an outfielder who ascended to the big leagues and played eight games with the Dodgers in 1985. Another older brother, Tyger, played college baseball.
But it's Champ who motivates Joc. The Dodgers teamed with New Era a couple of years ago to develop a line of "Live Like a Champ" caps. Champ was wearing a T-shirt sporting that logo as he sat next to his brother on Tuesday.
Pederson is well-aware that he has been given a gift to play ball.
"People with Down syndrome would do anything to have a normal day where they could go out there and play," Pederson said in 2016. "You can never take this for granted."
Thus, when the Dodgers acquired Curtis Granderson from the Mets on Aug. 19 and sent Pederson to the Minors, he said he took his 20-game stint at two Minor League levels in stride, even though he batted just .167.
"You know, it's never fun being demoted, I guess that was the first time," Pederson said. "But the league showed me a lot, the stuff I needed to work on. It was very humbling, and I needed to go learn how to hit, basically. So I've still got a lot of work to do, but it's encouraging to see some of the process and all the hard work turn into some results in the game."
Pederson is 25. He hit 51 homers between 2015 and '16 before slumping this season to a slash line of .212/.331/.407, with 11 homers, 35 RBIs and a .738 OPS in 102 regular-season games. The best should still be ahead of him.
Now, he's carrying all the good World Series results into Game 7. And Champ will be right there.
"I have a feeling that everything's possible. There's going to be a Game 7, so I just want to say that they'll get it tomorrow, if they can," Champ said. "And they will get where they need to be at. That's them, my guys."
That's Champ, Pederson's guy. And he had a big smile on his face as Champ said it.