Only one division series this fall is truly a clash of the luckless. The Milwaukee Brewers have not reached the World Series in nearly four decades, and have never won a championship. Atlanta has gone 26 years without a title, and has not won a pennant in the 21st century.
Joc Pederson has a different perspective. Pederson, an Atlanta outfielder, has played in three of the last four World Series and homered in all of them. The Los Angeles Dodgers let him leave as a free agent after their title last season, and after signing with the also-ran Chicago Cubs, Pederson joined Atlanta this summer through a trade. As usual, he is making his mark in October.
With a bleached-blond mohawk under his helmet and a string of white pearls — yes, pearls — around his neck, Pederson makes an odd-looking Mr. October. But Mr. Joctober suits him well. At Truist Park on Monday, he won Game 3 with one big swing, swatting a pinch-hit, three-run homer to lift Atlanta to a 3-0 victory and a two games to one lead in the best-of-five series.
“It’s funny because we saw him last year at the end,” said Atlanta starter Ian Anderson, referring to the 2020 N.L. Championship Series, when Pederson’s Dodgers beat Atlanta in seven games. “And to have him now on our team, we’re all ecstatic at what he’s been able to do, from the personality he is and the big spots he’s stepped up in. They say some guys are built for it. He’s the epitome of that.”
Using the bat of Anthony Rizzo, a former Cubs teammate, Pederson connected in the fifth inning off a high 1-2 fastball from Adrian Houser, who also allowed a homer to Pederson in the series opener. The homer, pulled deep into the right field seats, scored Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson, who had greeted Houser with singles.
Houser replaced starter Freddy Peralta, who worked four shutout innings but was lifted for a pinch hitter with runners on second and third and one out in the top of the fifth. Swanson, the Braves’ shortstop, had just saved a run with a diving backhanded stop of a hard smash by Lorenzo Cain, looking the runner back to third and firing to first for the out.
Had the Brewers scored there, Manager Craig Counsell said, he might have let Peralta hit. Instead he turned to Daniel Vogelbach, a brawny slugger who could only tap a grounder to third. Atlanta’s Austin Riley threw home to trap Luis Urias in a rundown, and when a line out ended the inning, Counsell had nothing to show for his gamble.
“It’s a tough decision,” Counsell said. “Freddy was throwing the ball great, no question about it. I think he could have got two more innings in an ideal scenario, but there was a path to the end of the game, I thought, for us with our bullpen. We needed to score and there was a good opportunity to score, and we had Vogelbach on the team for that situation in that spot.”
Scoring was tough enough for the Brewers in the regular season. They averaged only 4.56 runs per game, the fewest of any division-winner, and batted just .233, tied for 27th among 30 teams. In the playoffs, the problem has only gotten worse.
The Brewers are hitting .176 and have scored in just one of their 26 innings. Atlanta’s starters — Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Anderson — have a 1.06 earned run average, with Morton allowing Milwaukee’s only two runs of the series.
Atlanta’s hitters have not done much damage, either, with just seven runs in the three games. But they wrested a series lead thanks largely to Pederson, whose star turn was somewhat predictable, based on his track record.
His role as a fashion influencer was unexpected. Pederson bought his necklace on a whim, but fans are catching on.
“I just saw the pearls and I was, like, ‘You know what? That looks cool,’” Pederson said. “I’ve done the black chain and the gold chain and all those different ones and I think a lot of other players have. But I don’t know, it kind of caught my eye. I texted the jeweler about it and got some out, and they kind of went crazy.”
White pearls and clutch home runs — in Atlanta, it’s the formula for a perfect Joctober.