Joc rocks pearls, lifts Braves with pinch HR

Pederson's blast puts Atlanta 1 win from NLCS; 'It's like he's on the playground'

October 12th, 2021

ATLANTA -- If the early days of Joctober are a sign of things to come, Braves fans might be wearing pearls for the rest of this month and celebrating finally having on their side this time of year.

Pederson further endeared himself to Atlanta fans with the pinch-hit home run he drilled in a 3-0 win over the Brewers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday afternoon at Truist Park. His fifth-inning three-run shot put the Braves one victory from a second straight trip to the NL Championship Series.

The winner of Game 3 in a best-of-five postseason series tied at 1-1 has gone on to win the series 39 of 54 times (72.2 percent).

“They say some guys are built for it,” Braves starting pitcher said. “[Pederson] is the epitome of that, I would say.”

Pederson added to his postseason legend moments after a rowdy hometown crowd was chanting “Let’s go, Joc!” with two on and none out in the fifth. The ever-confident veteran outfielder connected on Adrian Houser’s high fastball, admired the shot for a second and then took a couple of steps toward Atlanta’s first-base dugout before pounding his chest.

“He brings so much energy to our team,” Braves shortstop said. “I told him the other day that no environment ever dictates who he is. He's the same guy in every situation. And I feel like that's one of the reasons why he's so successful come this time of year.”

Pederson’s latest big playoff moment -- combined with Anderson extending his postseason success with five scoreless innings -- gave the Braves a second straight win in the series. Atlanta’s starters (Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Anderson) have combined to allow just two runs over 17 innings. The pitching staff as a whole has worked 19 consecutive scoreless innings going back to Rowdy Tellez’s two-run homer in Milwaukee’s Game 1 victory on Friday.

“It's incredible,” Pederson said. “It's really fun to watch. They've been extremely dominant.”

The complimentary value of these words is enhanced when accounting for the fact Pederson spent the past six years making annual trips to the postseason with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and other great Dodgers starters. He aided Los Angeles with the calm, cool and productive approach that has allowed him to hit .286 with 11 home runs and a .912 OPS in 67 playoff games.

Pederson homered and produced a .905 OPS against the Braves in the 2018 NLDS and then homered again while constructing a .977 OPS against them during last year’s NLCS. So it’s easy to understand why Braves manager Brian Snitker is happy to now have the slugger on his team.

“That guy's got no heartbeat at all,” Snitker said. “It's like he's on the playground. Playing against him in the postseason the last few years, you could tell that.”

After the Braves lost Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending right knee injury on July 10, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos targeted the energetic and upbeat Pederson as a guy who could ensure the clubhouse remained positive. So Atlanta acquired him from the Cubs one day before the season’s second half began.

Pederson lost his everyday role in September. But he has accepted his backup role and has delivered in it, going 3-for-3 with two homers in this NLDS. He homered against Houser in the eighth inning of Game 1 and again when the Brewers right-handed reliever entered after the need for offense forced Milwaukee to lift starter Freddy Peralta after five scoreless innings.

“It didn't look like a bad pitch,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Give him credit.”

The pitch was a few inches above the strike zone and 3.81 feet off the ground per Statcast. It was the fifth-highest pitch Pederson has homered against. But when asked how he managed to hit the pitch, he chose to provide the comical, confident response as opposed to a boring, mechanical one.

“I guess I'm just a pretty good player,” Pederson said.

Pederson’s success has created reason to wonder if he should be starting in front of left fielder Eddie Rosario. Snitker said there’s at least a chance he will wake up on Tuesday and find himself willing to make a lineup switch.

Pederson said he will be comfortable with whatever decision is made. The free-spirited 29-year-old doesn’t allow himself to get worked up or worry about what others think. He ordered pearls from his jeweler a few weeks ago and has worn them ever since “because they look good.”

As the past few weeks have elapsed, more Braves fans have started wearing pearl necklaces. Some of them were likely among those who were loudly chanting Joc’s name just before he added his latest contribution to Joctober.

“I've been on the opposing side of it here, especially when [Acuña] hit that grand slam [in the 2018 NLDS],” Pederson said. “It gets loud. It's a great fan base, great environment. It was pretty special. And to come up big in a moment like that was pretty cool.”