There are October legends, and then there is October reality, and often, one does not resemble the other.
And then there is Joctober, which we can assure you is very, very real.
Only in baseball can a free-swinging, strikeout-happy free-spirited slugger who vacillates from full- to part-time duty depending on which kind of streak he’s on transform into a strangely clutch performer who regularly outslugs his regular season self.
And now that Joc Pederson has taken his postseason act from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Atlanta Braves, he’s proven that his October prowess was not some product of the matchup-happy Dodgers’ army of analysts.
No, it’s now bordering on the historic.
"I guess I'm just a pretty good player, I don't know," said Pederson accompanied by laughter. "Just knocked it out of the yard."
The Braves hold a 2-1 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in their National League Division Series because Pederson was summoned from the bench in the bottom of the fifth inning, Game 3 scoreless, two runners on, and asked to do damage against Brewers relief pitcher Adrian Houser. Pinch-hitting is a thankless chore, no easier than sitting on your couch for two hours and asked to chase down a dog that escaped the yard.
But Pederson is a rare bird, whose pearl necklace has become the most-discussed sartorial decision this postseason.
And his autumn production remains elite, too.
Pederson popped off the bench and slammed a Houser fastball over the right field fence Monday afternoon, providing the only runs of this ballgame, probably lifting the Braves into a second consecutive NL Championship Series. They have two shots to win one game, thanks to this 3-0 victory that begs one premature, albeit fascinating question:
Can a team’s most valuable player be a fellow who receives just one plate appearance a game?
So far, that tracks.
Lest we forget, here’s Pederson’s NLDS in a nutshell:
Game 1: Pinch-hit home run off Houser, providing Atlanta’s only run in a 2-1 loss.
Game 2: Pinch-hit single.
Game 3: A towering drive to right field, and a postseason resume that puts him shoulder to shoulder with baseball’s biggest legends of the fall.
See, this was Pederson’s 11th home run in 154 postseason at-bats, or one long ball per 14 at-bats. He’s still a half-dozen homers shy of cracking the postseason top 10, but consider how his frequency of long balls compares to your favorite October stars:
David Ortiz? Seventeen homers in 304 at-bats, or one every 18 at-bats.
Reggie Jackson? Mr. October himself slugged 18 in 281 at-bats, or one every 15.6.
Manny Ramirez, the all-time leader in postseason home runs, hit his 29 in 410 at-bats, or one every 14.1 at-bats. That puts him in a dead heat with Pederson in terms of frequency, though we now know Ramirez probably had a little wind at his back for some of those.
Manny, to say the least, had his quirks, endearing and occasionally maddening. So, too, does Pederson, who brought his bleach-blond hair, aforementioned necklace and Anthony Rizzo’s bat with him in a July trade from the Chicago Cubs.
Perhaps the numbers don’t always play: Between this season and the pandemic-shortened 2020, Pederson batted just .227, a 180-game sample during which his .721 OPS was 9% worse than league average.
It wasn’t unlike his 2017 season, his only full year when he was worse than a league-average performer, thanks to just 11 home runs and a .212/.331/.407 slash line in 102 games.
Then came October.
In 11 games, Pederson suddenly morphed into a .304/.360/.826 performer. In the 2017 World Series, he slammed three home runs against the Houston Astros, including a three-run, ninth-inning shot to seal a 6-2 Game 4 victory and a solo homer in a 3-1 Game 6 win that extended the Dodgers’ chances one more day.
Now, the Braves are discovering Pederson is a different beast come playoff time.
“This is just what he does,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said in a postgame interview. “He enjoys these moments and like I told hm the other day, it’s pretty awesome seeing Joc Pederson being Joc Pederson, no matter the environment. He keeps things light. It helps the chemistry gel and you know he’s going to come through.”
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 11, 2021
It took just three games for Pederson to become just the third player with two pinch-hit homers in one playoff series, the first since Boston's Bernie Carbo in the epic 1975 World Series.
Perhaps Pederson's experience in the Dodgers' platoon-o-matic machine steeled him – and others – for the unpredictive beast that is postseason baseball. In L.A., he bounced in and out of the lineup and around the outfield while sharing at-bats and roles with, at various points, Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez and Cody Bellinger.
While he struggled mightily in 2020, he left the Dodgers with some lovely parting gifts, most notably a four-hit night in a must-win, Game 3 of the NLCS against his future Braves teammates. His second-inning homer off Tyler Glasnow provided the eventual winning run in a 4-2 victory in World Series Game 5.
His 2020 OPS? A meager .681 in 43 regular season games, a rousing .991 in 16 postseason games.
"That guy's got no heartbeat at all. It's like he's on the playground," says Braves manager Brian Snitker, now happily on the proper end of Joc's bops. "Playing against him in the postseason last few years, you could tell. "He's a very talented young man."
Now, a new team, a new role, yet the same, startling results.
"It is something you can't quantify," says Swanson. "It's Joctober, baby."
Yet it is something you can quantify - all the way down to the California vibes and Pederson's unique swagger.
After Game 3, Pederson said he wanted to switch up from his usual collection of gold chains and, after exchanging texts with his jeweler settled on the pearl necklace.
"And yes," says Pederson, "they're real pearls."
As real as Pederson's swagger that Snitker says has spread through Atlanta's clubhouse in a most positive fashion.
"It is for real," Snitker says. "He's a guy that attracts people. He's something else - in a good way. He's like, 'I'm ready to do whatever you need me to do.'
"And he does."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'It's Joctober': Braves' Joc Pederson delivers another playoff homer