If the season-opening series against the San Diego Padres confirmed the reality that Matt Kemp was no longer playing for the Dodgers, it also offered a spectacular reminder that Adrian Gonzalez still was.
Gonzalez homered three times in a game for the first time in his 12-year career, powering the Dodgers to a 7-4 victory Wednesday night over the Kemp-led Padres at Dodger Stadium.
In doing so, the four-time All-Star became the first player in major league history to hit five home runs in his team's first three games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
For the Dodgers, that translated to two victories in the three-game series.
Gonzalez also became only the third player in Dodgers history to hit a home run in each of the team's first three games and the first National League player since Orlando Cepeda in 1963 to collect three hits or more in each of his team's first three games.
“I was able to get three fastballs there. Thank God they were able to go over the fence,” Gonzalez said. “It's definitely up there for a personal feat.”
Said Padres Manager Bud Black: “Natural hitter. Natural baseball player.”
By that, Black meant Gonzalez has played enough games from the time he was a child to make everything he does seem like second nature.
“I don't know if there's anyone on the field who has played more games than Adrian Gonzalez,” said Black, who managed Gonzalez for four season on the Padres.
For Gonzalez's current manager, this makes the first baseman particularly low maintenance. Gonzalez knows how to prepare himself.
If Gonzalez thinks he should skip batting practice on a certain day, Manager Don Mattingly lets him. If Gonzalez tells him he wants to spend more time in the batting cage, he lets him do that, too.
Gonzalez led the major leagues with 116 runs batted in last season.
Before the game Wednesday, the first baseman was presented with the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards he claimed in 2014.
Soon after, he pounced on a 98-mph fastball from Padres starter Andrew Cashner and sent it over the wall in right-center field. The homer reduced the Dodgers' deficit to 2-1.
“He likes to throw his fastball,” Gonzalez said. “I was ready for it.”
The Dodgers moved in front, 4-2, in a three-run second inning that included a bases-loaded walk by pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
Gonzalez increased the advantage to 5-2 in the third inning when he connected with another fastball from Cashner for a home run.
Two innings later, another fastball by Cashner resulted in another solo home run for Gonzalez.
The crowd at Dodger Stadium roared. The fans remained on their feet as Gonzalez returned to the dugout, where Yasiel Puig leaped on his back. Gonzalez scaled up the dugout steps and saluted the crowd.
There was more to come.
The Padres scored twice against McCarthy in the sixth inning, to close the gap to an uncomfortable 6-4.
Gonzalez returned to the batter's box in the bottom half of that inning with runners on the corners and right-hander Nick Vincent on the mound. Black promptly called on left-hander Frank Garces to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Gonzalez.
Gonzalez lined a 3-and-1 off-speed pitch into center field, driving in Justin Turner and extending the Dodgers' lead to 7-4.
Gonzalez finished the game four for four with four RBIs. He was 10 for 13 (.769) with seven RBIs and seven runs over the series.
Gonzalez's heroics overshadowed a productive homecoming for Kemp, who was traded by the Dodgers to the Padres over the off-season.
Kemp was two for five with a run Wednesday. In the series, he was five for 13 with three RBIs, two runs and a stolen base.
Welcomed back to Dodger Stadium with a standing ovation on opening day, Kemp noticed a gradual increase in boos as the series progressed.
“I like it,” Kemp said. “It means you're doing something.”
Kemp smiled as he talked about how the same fans who used to cheer for him were now directing less-than-flattering comments at him as he stood in right field.
“They're giving me the business out there,” Kemp said. “It's kind of different because I've never had fans really screaming at me like that in Dodger Stadium. I'm usually one of the good guys. Now, I'm one of the bad guys. But it's all fun.”
More important, Kemp was confident the Padres could compete with his former team for the NL West title.
“These are two good teams going at it,” he said. “We knew that coming into that. I think they knew that coming into it. I think we're evenly matched.”