If Adrian Gonzalez is indeed the best hitter on the Red Sox, as many believe he is, then the vibe that this lineup will feed off for the next seven months or so is now in place.
Gonzalez singled on the first pitch he saw in a Boston uniform and added a sacrifice fly, part of a 16-hit attack in the Sox' 9-2 win over the Florida Marlins on Saturday. Although it is just a tiny sample, his debut seemed to act as a catalyst for those around him in the lineup and gave onlookers a taste of what his presence might mean.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, the two hitting just ahead of Gonzalez, both went 3-for-3. Pedroia had all singles, but Ellsbury ripped a pair of doubles, one to drive in a pair of runs, and also slugged a solo homer. Throw in the hit by Gonzalez in the first inning and his sacrifice fly in the second and the top third of the batting order finished 7-for-7 with five RBIs and three runs scored.
It was enough to elicit that cliché, one that could be uttered early and often in Fenway Park this year.
"Hitting is contagious. That's how it's going to help [me]," Gonzalez said. "Scoring more runs is just going to help, whether it's me hitting or just somebody else doing the driving in. You watch guys get hits on your team, you want to go up there and get hits yourself, so it's going to help me in that sense."
Those hits just kept coming for Boston, long after Gonzalez was removed from the game. It was 4-1 when he departed following the second inning. Ten other players had at least one hit and the nine runs overall matched a Grapefruit League high for the club.
And while some were hit harder or for more bases than Gonzalez's single in the first, none were more notable. To put it into perspective, Gonzalez had not swung a bat in a game since Oct. 3, and was stepping in against Marlins ace Josh Johnson.
"You'd think that after that long away coming off an injury he would be a little jumpy. He was anything but that," manager Terry Francona said. "Nice little liner to left and then he had a good at-bat where he got the sac fly. It's a nice start."
Gonzalez will take Sunday off and is expected to get two more plate appearances Monday night against the Yankees. The Red Sox plan to have Carl Crawford in the lineup (he was off Saturday) that night and can begin to get a more concrete idea of what sort of damage they can do top to bottom.
To Gonzalez, after seeing what Ellsbury and Pedroia can do to a pitcher — even one as good as Johnson — it starts at the top.
"The guys got on base," Gonzalez said. "Ells started it off with that double which gets that hitting mentality going a little bit more. Pedroia driving him in. You get that momentum going … They set the tone great. From an offensive point of view, if we're getting hits, the pitcher is thinking about it, and you definitely have, I guess, the mental advantage at that point."
None of this means you can pencil Gonzalez in for a Triple Crown and a Gold Glove Award just yet. He does have a few minor obstacles remaining. One, which wouldn't affect his offensive numbers except in that it will keep him healthy, is his need to stay on his feet defensively. He will not be diving for anything at first base during spring training, a conscious effort to limit any awkward landings as he continues to build strength in the surgically repaired right shoulder.
Also, Gonzalez is still using a bat which is lighter than he would like. Much was made of Gonzalez's decision to switch to a heavier bat after a discussion with Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard back in 2007, a talk which helped transform Gonzalez's career.
Due to the torn labrum he was forced to play through in 2010, Gonzalez had to abandon the bigger lumber and go back to the 31-ounce stick he used to use. He still put up the same great numbers with the lighter bat, but there will soon be a day when he is able to go back into battle with the real weapon of choice.
"I'll just pick a day," he said as to when that will occur.
For now, Gonzalez can take comfort that his debut — which came earlier than expected to begin with — went about as well as can be. Just being able to use those clichés once again means a lot to a guy who hadn't swung a bat in a game in over five months.
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