For a player who thrives on the doubt of others - remember that .172 batting average on May 1, his too-big swing, and his small stature? - Dustin Pedroia might not have that as motivation for much longer. In the wake of a stellar season, both offensively and defensively, the Red Sox second baseman won the American League Rookie of the Year award, handed out today by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
He had spent the night before the announcement moving into a new house in Chandler, Ariz. A long night, to be sure. But eased, perhaps, by today's announcement that he had taken the award by a large margin, over Tampa Bay outfielder Delmon Young (132 points to 56). Not that Pedroia has ever been one for individual accomplishments.
It's good for his family, he said. Good for his wife. For him? He has that World Series victory to hold onto.
"It's just been, it's kind of been a dream come true this whole year," Pedroia said. "In your first year in the big leagues, you want to establish yourself as a good player. The only thing I cared about was trying to help the team win. That was our ultimate goal.
"We set out to try to win the American League East and try to win the World Series. We accomplished both of those things.
"If you're dedicated to team goals, individual goals will come later. You're going to play your best baseball doing everything you can to help your team win."
But it wasn't always easy for Pedroia. He struggled through April, batting .172 as the calls for Alex Cora to replace him in the infield grew louder. But Pedroia took off after that, raising his batting average to .317 for the season.
Pedroia earned 24 of 28 first-place votes to beat out Young, with Kansas City's Brian Bannister coming in third (36). In the National League, Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun beat out Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the closest race since the current system was instituted in 1980. Braun got 17 first-place votes to Tulowitzki's 15, and took the award by just 2 points.
Fellow Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka placed fourth with 12 points and Hideki Okajima eighth with three.
"We're very proud of Dustin for what he has accomplished and how he has conducted himself in a Red Sox uniform, so it's especially gratifying to see him recognized today with such a prestigious honor," general manager Theo Epstein wrote in an email. "From his first day in the organization, he's been a great example for all with his work ethic, fearlessness, and respect for his teammates and the game. He gets the most out of his considerable abilities and does so with one thought in mind: winning championships for the Boston Red Sox."
Pedroia was drafted by the Red Sox with their second-round pick in 2004, and surged through the minor league system. He was first promoted to the major leagues in August 2006, then was handed the second base job in spring training this year. And despite that slow start, Pedroia was bounced up to the leadoff spot in the order, where he remained for most of the season, justifying the team's commitment to him.
"From an organizational standpoint, the award is a nice tribute to all the people - the scouts, the player development personnel, and the major league staff - who believed in Dustin and played a small part in helping him along the way," Epstein wrote.
Pedroia finished the season with 8 home runs and 50 RBIs, in addition to his .317 batting average. He is the sixth Red Sox player to be Rookie of the Year, the first since Nomar Garciaparra took it in 1997.
Though he learned on Sept. 10 that he had cracked the hamate bone in his left hand, Pedroia played a large role in the Red Sox' run to the World Series, hitting .283 with 2 home runs and 10 RBIs in the postseason, including .345 in the AL Championship Series. Pedroia has had surgery on the hand, and will be ready to start spring training on time.
"I don't really know when it happened," he said. "I just remember flying out to right field a lot and my hand was killing me. I got an MRI or bone scan or whatever the heck it was, and they said there was a crack in it. The hand specialist in Boston who I went and saw said, 'It's going to be painful, but it's not like you can't play through it.' "
So he did, polishing his credentials at the same time.
"This game's tough," Pedroia said. "If you fail seven out of 10 times, you're a pretty good player. It's just believing in yourself, having the confidence in yourself to go out there and perform well. I started doing that after the first month of the season and it took off from there."