Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez produces when needed
The mood was jolly on that August afternoon, the day the Dodgers officially declared their liberation from the old regime.
The new owners had spent more than $2 billion to buy the team out of bankruptcy court. They had money, yes. But the baseball world did not know how much more money they had to spend for another three months, when they spent another quarter of a billion dollars to get one player.
The Dodgers identified Adrian Gonzalez as a player who would fit every one of their needs — a big bat, a good glove, and a bilingual force in the community. The Boston Red Sox wanted to slash payroll and rid themselves of long-term commitments. If the Dodgers wanted Gonzalez, they would have to take on money — all the money owed to Gonzalez, and even more money owed to Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.
This was three years before the Dodgers became baseball’s first $300-million team. At the time, Dodgers President Stan Kasten was asked whether the team had a spending limit.
“I haven’t found it yet,” Kasten said. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”
We’re still waiting. But that quarter-billion was well worth it, the first splashy evidence of what a former local team calls commitment to excellence.
The latest and most important return on investment came Saturday, when Gonzalez doubled home the winning runs in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory over the New York Mets in Game 2 of the National League division series. If he did not literally save the season, well, close enough.
Gonzalez has been the anchor of the Dodgers’ lineup from the day he arrived — and hit a home run in his first at-bat. Yasiel Puig stole the spotlight, but Gonzalez has led the team in home runs and runs batted in each of his three full seasons with the team.
The playoffs did not start well for him this year. He struck out in six of his first seven at-bats — no sin, perhaps, with Jacob deGrom throwing 98 mph in Game 1 and Noah Syndergaard throwing 101 mph in Game 2, but no great honor either.
And then came the seventh inning, that crazy seventh, the inning that has been so fateful for the Dodgers this October and last. The Dodgers rallied in the seventh, scoring the tying run on a play that will forever be remembered for a controversial slide by Chase Utley.
But the Dodgers still were looking for their first lead of the series. Two on, two out, Gonzalez up. His job description is “run producer.”
“He’d be the first guy everyone would want up in an RBI situation,” Zack Greinke said, “including their team and our team. He’s just the best at it.”
The triple-digit fastballs had departed. The Mets were using their third pitcher of the evening, Addison Reed.
The first two swings did not look terribly promising, foul balls on fastballs, one at 94 mph, the other at 95 mph. But Gonzalez had Reed timed. When Reed tried to sneak another 95 mph fastball past him, Gonzalez yanked the 0-2 pitch into right field, spotting it well enough that Utley could score from second and Howie Kendrick could score from first.
Gonzalez charged into third base, pumping his fists, then hitting them together, then pumping some more. After the game, he laughed at the question of what adjustment he had made between at-bats.
“The biggest adjustment,” he said, “was a guy not throwing 90 mph changeups.”
There was not much more laughter. The Mets were angry. The Dodgers were exhilarated, and exhausted.
“We can’t go down, 0-2, after having [Clayton] Kershaw and Greinke pitch for us,” Gonzalez said. “This was must-win for us.”
There was none of the goofiness that accompanied Gonzalez’s heroics two years ago, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright accused him of “Mickey Mouse” antics and Gonzalez responded by making the sign of mouse ears atop his helmet after a home run.
There was simply this: a season saved from despair. The producer produced, and the Dodgers are all even.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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