If you Google “Adrian Gonzalez,” the first story you’ll find about him isn’t about the game-winning home run that he hit on Sunday night against the Chicago Cubs; it’s about the fact that earlier this season, he refused to stay at one of Donald Trump’s hotels in Chicago.
Here’s what should be the more important story: Adrian Gonzalez hit what ended up becoming the game-winning home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Gonzalez’s solo shot in the second inning off Kyle Hendricks helped his Dodgers steal a game in Wrigley Field and tie the NLCS at one game apiece. His team is now back in Los Angeles for Game 3 of the series with a bit of momentum on their side. And sure, Clayton Kershaw performed how you’d expect Clayton Kershaw to perform in Game 2. So did reliever Kenley Jansen, who pitched two scoreless innings, but if Gonzalez hadn’t hit the home run, the second game of the series could have ended differently, perhaps with a Dodgers loss, and they could have been heading back home in an 0-2 hole.
It is slightly amusing that someone who hit .285/.349/.435 with 18 home runs isn’t really spoken about, but it has always seemed that way with Gonzalez. He’s never been the loudest guy in the clubhouse. He seems unassuming, he speaks in a relatively soft voice when he’s being interviewed, and while Gonzalez’s 2016 numbers aren’t as flashy as the numbers he had for the San Diego Padres in 2010 (.298/.393/.511 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI) or even for Boston Red Sox in 2011 (.338/.410/.548 with 27 home runs and 117 RBI), he’s still a solid player for Dodgers at age 34.
His 2016 season was a bit up and down. It started off a little down for Gonzalez, thanks to a back injury he suffered that sapped the power right out of him. He only hit three home runs in April and then, he only hit three home runs combined in May and June.
One positive for Gonzalez was that he was hitting for average in May (.312/.381/.409) so while the power took a while to come back, he was still pretty productive at the plate. His worst month was June; he batted .223/.295/.319 with only one home run. After a successful July (.315/.392/.472) his turnaround was complete on August 22 when he hit three home runs in a game against the Reds. Thanks to that homer-filled day, Gonzalez finished with seven home runs in August.
And much like his regular season, Gonzalez started off a little slow in the playoffs, batting only .200/.238/.350 with four hits in five games (20 at bats) and one home run against the Nationals in the National League Division series. But thus far against the Cubs, it has been a different story for Gonzalez.
While it is a minuscule sample size, Gonzalez already has three hits in seven at bats, including his big Game 2 homer off Hendricks. Hendricks had gone 17 appearances (16 starts) without giving up a home run before Gonzalez got him on the second pitch he threw in the second inning. It was an 89 mph fastball that was low in the zone but got way too much of the middle of plate, and Gonzalez deposited it into the left-center field bleachers.
Before the game, Gonzalez told reporters that the Dodgers wanted to get Kershaw runs early, and after the game, he spoke about his approach at the plate. He told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that he wanted to elevate and get the ball in the air against Hendricks because he’s a sinker ball pitcher, and that is exactly what he did on his home run. He also worked a walk against Hendricks in the sixth inning.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gonzalez has hit a home run in each of the last six postseason series in which he has played. That puts him one shy of tying David Ortiz, Jim Edmonds, Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle, who hit home runs in seven series in a row—Mantle’s were hit in seven straight World Series.
Adrian Gonzalez was a big reason why the Dodgers were able to win the National League West with Kershaw on the shelf for so long, so don’t be surprised if he becomes a big reason why the Dodgers could shock the Cubs and win the National League Championship series.