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Dan Shaughnessy

Gonzalez (actually) is batting 1.000

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 13, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Some moments stand out in a lifetime, like red M&Ms sprinkled into a big bowl of vanilla.

There was the night the Beatles first played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.’’

There was the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

And then there was Adrian Gonzalez’s first game in a Red Sox uniform yesterday at City of Palms Park in southwest Florida.

Who’ll ever forget it?

Clocks froze when Gonzo stepped to the plate in his tuxedo home whites at 1:14 p.m. EST. Then a hush came over the crowd when fans heard Carl Beane announce, “First baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.’’

There he was. After years of talk radio speculation (“Now that Jed is GM of the Padres, Theo’s gotta get Gonzalez!’’), and then the blockbuster deal that kicked off the 2010 winter meetings in Orlando, Gonzalez was finally standing there, in the flesh, wearing the colors of the Olde Towne Team, waiting to face Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson.

“Nice guy to break in on,’’ said Dustin Pedroia. “You always want to start off against a guy who throws a 100-mile-an-hour slider.’’

As Gonzalez got ready in the box, Johnson (clearly afraid) threw over to first base, where Pedroia was taking his lead. When Johnson finally delivered his first pitch to Gonzalez, the Sox’ new slugger slapped a clean single into left-center.

It was a fluid, loose swing. Pure butter. You won’t see sawdust coming off the bat handle when Gonzalez is waiting for his pitch. Yo Adrian has the soft hands of Yo Yo Ma, hands of a confident hitter. The first swing, the first hit, was textbook stuff.

“Josh Johnson is a guy who has a great fastball so you can’t give him anything,’’ said Gonzalez. “My game plan was just to wait for a fastball that I could get on top of and I was able to execute that first pitch. It felt great.’’

An inning later, he came to the dish again, this time with runners on first and third and one out. He pawed the back line of the box, stepped in and took ball one (inside) from Johnson. After Johnson threw over to third, Gonzo swung at a ball low and in and chopped it foul to his right. He took an easy swing at the 1-and-1 pitch and fouled it back onto the roof.

Then he took another easy swing and lofted a soft liner into left-center. The ball hung in the air long enough for center fielder Dewayne Wise to make the catch. Jacoby Ellsbury (the man is scalding the ball and makes you wish the season started today) scored easily from third and Gonzo had his first spring training RBI.

“I was consciously going to swing through any offspeed pitch,’’ Gonzalez said. “If he made a good pitch, hopefully I was going to be able to recognize it and take it. But I was gearing up for the fastball my entire at-bat. He made an effort to throw fastballs inside. I was a little late on my timing on the fouls. I was trying to hit a line drive up the middle.’’

Drew Sutton replaced Gonzalez at first base for the top of the third. Gonzo’s line for the day: 1 for 1 with an RBI. Five pitches, four swings, two balls stroked to left-center.

Looks like a keeper to me. The guy is batting 1.000 and always gets the runners in from third with fewer than two out. I say they should sign him up for seven years at $154 million.

Before yesterday, Gonzalez hadn’t batted in a game situation since San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez shut out San Diego on the final day of the 2010 season.

The freefalling Padres finished two games behind the Giants, out of the playoffs.

Gonzalez played with a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder for most of the 2010 season and had the shoulder repaired Oct. 20. The Sox have been saying that he’ll be ready to hit on Opening Day in Texas, but they never set a date for his return to the batter’s box. Officials were still talking about late this week right up until 8 a.m. yesterday when the lineup was posted with “Gonzalez’’ marked into the No. 3 spot, behind Pedroia, in front of Kevin Youkilis.

“There’s not a concern about the at-bats,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “We’re to a point where he got ready so quick we didn’t really have to have that conversation. We were viewing it would be later in spring when he got into games.’’

Gonzalez said he’s not going to dive for any balls in spring training, and he’s using a bat that’s a little lighter than the one he’ll use Opening Day. The Sox will rest him today and hope to have him back in the lineup tomorrow night against the Yankees.

“I’m just on schedule, and one thing I’ve said all along is that I’ll be ready to go Opening Day,’’ he said. “The shoulder is responding well.’’

This was a day when we got a sense of what the Sox could be this year. With the exception of Carl Crawford (who had the day off), Francona went with the players we expect to see in the starting lineup this year. And they delivered. The Sox routed the Marlins, 9-2, and mashed 16 hits.

Springtime in Florida. The weather is beautiful. Adrian Gonzalez is here.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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