Last night, Adrian Gonzalez had another chance to give the Red Sox a much-needed lift. In fact, he had two chances. But, as we've seen all too often this year, Gonzalez came up small in a big situation.
One one hand, it's obviously early, and Gonzalez is no stranger to slow starts.
He only hit one home run last April, before exploding for nine homers in May and morphing into the most precise and dominant Sox slugger since Manny. Still, even with the impressive numbers Gonzalez ultimately posted in 2011, there were a few concerning caveats.
That he hit .183 (13-84) against the Yankees and .131 (8 for 61) against the Rays. That he hit .391 when the Sox were winning, and only .274 when they were behind. That, basically, he didn't have a feel or the fortitude to step up when the Sox needed him most.
Maybe that was unfair, but we could only go on what we saw, and Gonzalez certainly didn't help himself with some of the things he said off the field.
"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't in his plan for us to move forward," he said, in the moments after the Sox lost to the Orioles in Game 162, completing one of the worst collapses in more than 100 years of Major League baseball. And believe it or not, that didn't go over very well. It made everyone wonder if Gonzalez might have been better off playing out the rest of his days in a place like San Diego, where baseball plays second fiddle to things like surfing, golf and brunch.
So far in 2012, Gonzalez has done little to alter that perception.
This year, he's a .323 hitter when the Sox are winning, but comes in at a cool .216 when they're behind. He's hitting .273 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He's hitting .182 in "Late & Close" situations (defined by Baseball Reference as plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck). He went 2-9 in the Yankees series, and even though he did hit .353 in four games against the Rays, five of his six hits were singles and only one resulted in an RBI.
And that brings us back to last night.
First, the bottom of seventh inning: The Sox are trailing 4-1, but have loaded the bases and finally knocked starter Brandon McCarthy out of the game. In other words, they've got all the momentum in the world, and Gonzalez their should-be best hitter in the box. There are two outs.
Now, in Gonzalez's defense, A's reliever Ryan Cook has been lights out this season (he's now given up only two hits and zero runs over 12.1 innings), but he's also Ryan Cook. And we're talking about Adrian Gonzalez here.
Gonzalez looked awful, striking out on sixth pitches, extinguishing all the momentum and slamming his bat to the ground in disgust.
Next, it's the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Sox have Oakland closer Brian Fuentes on the ropes (where he pretty much lives these days). From the on-deck circle, Gonzalez watches Dustin Pedroia (who, by comparison, is hitting .316 when the Sox are ahead, but .333 when they're behind; .400 with two outs and runners in scoring position; .444 in late and close situations) hit a two-out RBI double to cut Oakland's lead to 4-2. Gonzalez then stepped in to the box representing the tying run and grounded out to third base.
He's now hitting .250 on the season with a .697 OPS. He's hitless in his last 17 at-bats.
However, there are still a few reasons to be optimistic after last night's ugly show.
First, I loved Gonzalez reaction after striking out in the seventh. Just the raw emotion of slamming the bat and appearing visibly angry in himself and the situation. Maybe that means he's pressing, but at least it shows that he's alive. That he's a competitive human being capable of that kind of display.
Second, after the game, he didn't blame the loss on God's plan, but instead his own failures.
"This game is all on me,'' he said. "I had two great opportunities and I didn't come through. It's one of those things that I'll make a definite point to not let happen again."
The accountability was refreshing.
And lastly, he's Adrian Gonzalez. He's averaged 33 homers and 107 RBI over the last five years. He had 213 hits last season the fourth most in Red Sox history! you have to assume that it's only a matter of time before he gets back on track and commences blowing our minds on a nightly basis.
But for now, it sure is frustrating.