When the all-time leader in home runs wants to talk with you, you put everything else down and listen.
Joc Pederson’s normal pregame routine on Tuesday became an afterthought as soon as he began chatting with Barry Bonds. In the Giants’ batting cage, they talked hitting for over half an hour. Just a legend and a slugger in a slump.
“I mean, I’m not ever going to be Barry Bonds,” Pederson said postgame. “He’s the best player to ever touch a bat. But it definitely helped free my mind up in the box.”
Picking Bonds’ brain was the best hitting conversation Pederson has ever had, he said. The outfielder’s normal pregame routine — one that includes meditation — is designed to calm him down and prepare him for a game. This discussion got him locked in in a different way.
By 20 minutes before first pitch, Pederson had lost track of time. He threw on his pants and walked up the dugout steps. There, he went out and did something even Bonds never did: hit three home runs in Oracle Park.
Pederson, who initiated the conversation, credited Bonds for helping him find the right mindset for an unforgettable performance. He became the second Giant to hit three home runs in Oracle Park. Plus, he smacked a game-tying single in the ninth inning off Mets closer Edwin Díaz to cap a career-high eight RBI night in what felt like a season-saving Giants victory.
“We all needed that,” starter Logan Webb said of Tuesday night’s win that snapped a five-game losing streak.
“It was the best individual performance I’ve seen,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Pederson’s night at the plate.
Pederson collected his eighth, ninth and 10th home runs on the season in the wild victory. No other Giant has more than four. If he continues at his current, wildly unsustainable pace, Pederson would hit 47 home runs on the season. That’s 26 still fewer than Bonds’ single-season — and MLB record — high of 73.
In his prime, Bonds was such a feared hitter that pitchers would avoid throwing him strikes at all cost. In 1998, he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded, one of his 688 career free passes. Many games, he’d only get one pitch to swing at.
Something about that concept clicked for Pederson, who had been 4-for-45 in the month of May.
“He’d get one pitch a game and somehow stay locked in for every other at-bat,” Pederson said. “Just understanding his mindset on how to focus on that and have no distractions. The way he explained it made a lot of sense.”
When Pederson trotted around the bases and returned to the dugout after his first home run — a two-run shot off Chris Bassitt — Webb said he joked that the power got passed down from Bonds.
“That guy is a clown,” Webb quipped. “He’s awesome.”
But is it possible Pederson was serious? Could a hitter really absorb knowledge from an all-time great and apply it right away?
“I don’t know if he was really joking,” LaMonte Wade Jr., who was also chatting with Bonds and Pederson, said. “I really think Joc listened. I listened, for sure. I think he really took it to heart. I know we both really appreciated Barry and what he did today.”
The discussion between Wade, Pederson and Bonds was collaborative; they asked Bonds questions, and he’d answer in-depth. He was impactful and insightful, Wade said, but the conversation didn’t necessarily center around hitting strategy or mechanics. Bonds didn’t pick up a bat the entire time, Pederson said. They learned about Bonds’ process, routine and confidence.
The purpose of the dialogue was more to free Pederson’s mind. Somehow, it worked.
“It sounds like it would be crazy, like you have a pregame routine and you do stuff,” Pederson said. “I literally did nothing today. I was talking to him and then I was like, ‘Oh, it’s 6:25,’ I’ve got to go. I put my pants on, jersey on. Normally that would cause like a chaos or a rush or a panic. But for some reason there was like a calmness and a freedom. Everything felt smooth and there weren’t any distractions.”
What’s ironic about Pederson scrambling to get ready for the game is that Bonds was a painstaking preparer. Attention to detail is crucial in hitting, as is sticking to a regimen.
“He was very meticulous and very focused and concentrated on what he needed to do each and every day,” Wade said. “He told us about how we should go out there and not be afraid of working on our weaknesses. Anybody can go out there and do what they’re strong at. The challenge is to go out there and challenge yourself on the things you’re not so good at. That was his challenge to us.”
One of Pederson’s biggest strength, something he may not need to challenge himself on, is hitting against right-handed pitching. Pederson’s second home run also came off Bassitt, a righty. The fifth-inning shot traveled 436 feet to dead center. It left Pederson’s bat at 109.1 mph and broke open the score.
After hitting two home runs in a game, it’s easy to get overzealous for a third. But Pederson said he thought back to what he and Bonds discussed and just tried to repeat what he tried his first two at-bats. Even as the stakes rose with his team on the brink of a sixth straight loss, even as the though of a three-homer game crossed his mind, Pederson just focused on staying in the moment.
So Pederson drilled a 1-1 inside fastball over the arcade and into McCovey Cove. His third of the night was a monstrosity, one that he admired as it splashed. The historic bomb tied the game 11-11 and inspired a Bonds comparison from broadcaster Jon Miller.
Yet the Giants would need to light up the Joc Signal over Oracle Park again the next inning.
John Brebbia allowed a run in the top of the ninth, meaning SF trailed by one run again. The back-and-forth nature felt like Game 5 of the 2017 World Series in which Pederson’s Dodgers fell short in Houston.
Wilmer Flores led off the ninth, but the only thought crossing through Kapler’s mind: we’ve got to get to Joc.
Thanks to excellent two-out at-bats from Mike Yastrzemski and Darin Ruf, the Giants accomplished their mission. Pederson dug in for a sixth time. The tying run stood on second, winning run on first. He had the chance to play hero again.
Díaz, the closer 60-feet, six inches from Pederson, held a 2.00 ERA. Against Díaz, all he needed was a single. And he smacked one up the middle, scoring Yastrzemski from second and tying the game for a second time in as many innings.
Pederson said Bonds’ guidance helped him not get carried away and swing for the fences again.
“I’ve talked to great hitters before,” Pederson said. “They’re not as in-depth as him. Obviously the game came very easy for him, but he was also a master inside the ears, of being able to stay focused and locked in on certain pitches.”
Each hit was bigger than the last. That fourth and final one led to Brandon Crawford’s walk-off single.
For a player nicknamed “Joctober” for his playoff heroics, Pederson has already delivered in the clutch for San Francisco. Earlier this year, he hit a go-ahead home run in Milwaukee as a fan heckled him.
But Tuesday was different. It was Bondsian.