By Rich Levine
This is what weve all been waiting for, even if we never knew exactly what this was.
But after 40 games, its official: Adrian Gonzalez has arrived.
From the moment Theo mortgaged the farm to bring A-Gon to Boston, and even after the team invested 154 million to ensure that hed stay, there was something about Gonzalez that Sox fans couldnt understand.
Gonzalez was the Great Unknown. Which is to say, we knew he was going to be great, we just didnt know how.
Of course, in the general sense, we did. For years, we watched the highlights, saw the stats, and then, once the deal became official, listened as every one of baseballs most respected minds wet themselves over how unbelievable Gonzalez would be in this lineup, in this stadium, with that big, fat wall in left field. We came into this season with every expectation that Gonzalez would be the best hitter on the Red Sox, if not in the entire American League.
Still, something about him remained a mystery. Despite the resume and the references, it didnt feel real.
The problem was this: For all wed read and seen and heard about Gonzalez, wed yet to really live it.
Can you say that about any major acquisition? Sure, but this was different.
Unlike Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett or even John Lackey, Gonzalez had never excelled on the big stage. He has as many career playoff home runs and RBI as I do. Hes also only played in four career postseason games, but really, thats the point. Hed just never been there. Wed never heard Bob Costas or Joe Buck deliver a drawn-out, sappy, romanticized monologue on the wonders of Adrian Gonzalez. Wed never seen him take a team to typically unattainable heights. He has a catalog of great seasons, but no moments that define his greatness.
Also, unlike Manny Ramirez or Carl Crawford, Gonzalez had never faced Boston in a big situation. Hed never instilled the fear of God in Sox fans. We never knew what it was like to be faced with his greatness, so it was hard to have as much respect for what he could do. Gonzalezs played three career games against Boston, and had one hit. And considering that came in the seventh inning of a game played out in San Diego, theres a good chance you didnt see it.
And thats the overriding theme. Gonzalez was a guy whod spent the last five years emerging, and then solidifying his spot among the greatest hitters in all of baseball. And for the most part, you just didnt see it.
Its strange to have that experience with a superstar in this day and age, with the 24-hour sports cycle haunting our every move, Baseball Tonight and the MLB Network making every team important, fantasy baseball making every player important, and the Internet making the whole world feel as cramped as a Fenway Park bathroom, but Gonzalez slipped through the cracks.
You knew he was there (especially if he was on your fantasy team), and that he was always on the Sox radar, but you never really knew him. There were no big sponsorships, or cool commercials. He did the Home Run Derby once, hit two homers in the first round and faded back into the crowd. He lived, breathed and succeeded in obscurity.
None of that mattered once he came to Boston. Regardless of anything you didnt know about him then, you knew what he was supposed to be now. He was the present and the future of this team. He was amends for Teixeira. At Fenway, he was maybe even better. You knew what to expect, you were just waiting for it to happen.
And at first it didnt.
For his first month in Boston, Gonzalez, again, was unlike any superstar weve had. He wasnt outspoken or quirky or flashy or really, much of anything. In fact, while we spent most of that time lamenting Crawfords struggles, Gonzalez remained in obscurity. He did nothing great, nothing awful. He hit .314 in that first month, but he had as many home runs (1) as Darnell McDonald. When he took the plate, there was nothing special or unique. Nothing to separate him form the pack. He didnt fidget psychotically like Nomar; he calmly stepped into the box. He didnt wave the bat menacingly like Manny; he set his feet, rested the bat on his shoulder and didnt move until the pitch was on its way. He didnt spit fire and glare angrily at the pitcher like Ortiz; Gonzalez looked out at the mound with a focused, non-descript stare, like an MIT student honing in on an algorythm. He was just blah. We learned nothing about him . . . or, in retrospect, maybe we learned everything about him. Regardless, unlike Crawford, there was never any concern over what Gonzalez might do.
We were never exactly sure what we were waiting for. We just knew it was coming, and that thered be no questions once it arrived.
Needless to say, the wait is over.
In 13 games this month, Gonzalez has more home runs (8), than any other Red Sox has for the entire season, and only Kevin Youkilis' season total of 22 RBI can top the 19 Gonzalez has knocked in since the first of the month. He leads or is tied for the team lead in hits, runs, batting average, doubles, homers, RBI, slugging and OPS. Hes kept the same demeanor, but instead of looking like a college kid attacking a math problem, it's now more like a nuclear technician diffusing a warhead. What once looked stoic and unaffected is now unflappable and you can see how much that scares the hell out of the other team. You can see how we works, how he will work, and how much better Boston will be for it.
Now, we're finally learning what Adrian Gonzalez is all about.
And it was definitely worth the wait.