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Gonzalez making own mark

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 14, 2011

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NEW YORK — The Red Sox had hoped when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego last winter that he would make everyone forget how they lost Mark Teixeira to the Yankees.

You know something? They may have already received their wish.

As we sit here in mid-May, Gonzalez is white hot. He’s a Fenway hitter they say, but he does pretty well at Rogers Centre in Toronto and he loves Yankee Stadium. Last night, in the Sox’ 5-4 victory, he homered into the upper deck in right in the fourth inning and drove in the go-ahead run with a long sacrifice fly to left in the seventh. He has 31 RBIs, which leads the American League. He’s hit homers in four of his last five games and six of his last 10. He’s hit .419 with 2 doubles, 6 homers, 9 runs, and 10 RBIs over the last seven games.

The Sox balked at paying Teixeira, a switch-hitter, $180 million over eight years, so they paid Gonzalez $154 million over seven and gave up three top prospects. Teixeira is a terrific player, a Gold Glove first baseman with power from both sides. If you compare the stats of these two players over the last four seasons they are pretty similar. Ironically, it was Teixeira’s presence in Texas that prompted the Rangers to deal Gonzalez to the Padres.

Both teams have to be happy with their middle-of-the-order, power-hitting first basemen for many years to come.

Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but this year he hit six homers in April. Last season, he had his worst average season at .256 but he scored 113 runs, hit 36 doubles and 33 home runs, and drove in 108 runs. Gonzalez, playing most of last season with a sore right shoulder, countered with a .298 average, 31 homers, and 101 RBIs. Both guys love to play every day.

Teixeira and Gonzalez were teammates with the Rangers in 2005, when Teixeira had an incredible season: .301 with 43 homers, 144 RBIs, and a league-leading 370 total bases. Gonzalez was a rookie who got 150 at-bats in 43 games. He hit six homers, drove in 17 runs, and hit .227.

Was having a player like Teixeira in his way frustrating?

“It’s not frustrating. I was in the big leagues and for me it was great because it allowed me to sit in the cage with [hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo] and learn a lot about hitting,’’ Gonzalez said. “Because I wasn’t playing, I could hang out with Rudy and not focus on the game. I’d wear him out. ‘Hey Rudy what do you have on this or that,’ pick his brain. I tried to learn as much I can about hitting, and Rudy taught me a ton.’’

Gonzalez said he and Teixeira got along fine, though “we didn’t go to dinner after games. I’m a guy who stays to myself, focus on what I have to do. My time off is for my wife.’’

Gonzalez never focuses on himself or his stats, even when asked about his recent hot streak.

“It’s good because we got a win,’’ he said. “It’s coming off two losses to Toronto. We needed a win. We played great as a team, [Clay Buchholz] threw the ball great, our relievers did their thing, and we got the big [Kevin Youkilis] homer.’’

Gonzalez kidded that it was a cheese steak prepared by the visiting clubhouse attendant that sparked his night. He said he would have another one tonight.

“That got me ready,’’ Gonzalez said with a smile. “They definitely rival the Philly ones and I told them if I did good it was going to be because of that cheese steak. I feel good at the plate.’’

The homer was a picture-perfect stroke, a long, high fly ball into the second deck. Gonzalez had homered to right-center at the old Yankee Stadium, taking a similar swing. Still, Gonzalez said he was not trying to go that way because of the short porch.

“No, not at all,’’ he claimed. “Bartolo [Colon] was going to pound me in. I knew that. He wasn’t going to give much the other way, so I knew I had to pick and choose my spot that I could get a ball middle-in that I could drive. I thought he left it more middle than I think he wanted to.’’

Gonzalez is often asked about his Fenway stroke but he says he never adjusts his swing for the ballpark.

“Having success or not is not going to be because of the park. It’s a game of execution,’’ he said. “If a pitcher doesn’t execute his pitch, I’m going to put a good swing on it.

“Pitching dominates hitting every time. If a pitcher makes his pitches, they’re going to get me out more often than not. I’m just up there looking for a pitch I can handle and put a swing on it.

“I’m never worried about ballparks. I learned that early playing in San Diego. You can’t let a ballpark get into your head.’’

Gonzalez says he remembers everything about everything he’s done in baseball, from all of his home runs to every strikeout. In his first night at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Sox, he contributed big time. Gonzalez, a baseball junkie said, “It’s a great atmosphere here.’’

It’s amazing how things develop. Teixeira was the guy the Sox went through hoops to get, only to be scooped by the Yankees. And then, they get a guy who couldn’t get a sniff in Texas because Teixeira was blocking him.

For a couple of years, the Yankees could say, “Ha ha, we got your player.’’

But now the slate is clean and the Sox just may think, before all is said and done, that they got the better player.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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