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Dan Shaughnessy

Gonzo is just out of this world

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 12, 2011

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PHOENIX - Adrian Gonzalez might be the best player in baseball today.

Think about it. Whom would you take ahead of him? At the break, Gonzo is leading the majors in batting average (.354, tied with Jose Reyes), RBIs (77), hits (128), doubles (29), and total bases (214). He’s playing Gold Glove-caliber first base and he’s the No. 3 hitter on the team with the best record in the American League.

Gonzalez will be batting third tonight when the American League faces Roy Halladay at enclosed Chase Field. He was runner-up in last night’s Home Run Derby.

“We expected him to be good after what we gave up for him [top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly],’’ said the Red Sox’ Josh Beckett. “But I don’t think anyone expected this. Not even our guys.’’

Tim Lincecum of the Giants is happy to have Gonzalez out of the National League West.

“It was tough because we did see him so often,’’ said the ace of the world champions. “The advantage was that we didn’t have to face him at Fenway Park. We played him at Petco and at our park. Now being in Boston with that wall, he’s able to utilize it and it plays to his strength. I always knew he was a really good player. Everybody knew it.

“He’s got that beautiful stroke to hit the ball to the other field, like John Olerud did. He doesn’t try to do too much with it. He’s just a natural hitter.’’

Gonzalez is hitting more than 60 points higher than his career average.

“I bet he’s a lot better than you thought he was,’’ said Gonzalez’s former teammate, Padres closer Heath Bell. “When you look at that career average, you have to consider the ballpark and the fact that he had no one hitting around him. He got the 100 RBIs and hit the 30-40 home runs with no protection whatsoever.

“As pitchers, we always said, ‘Why would you pitch to him? Just walk him four times.’ He’s like Barry Bonds. He was the only guy who was going to hurt you in our lineup the last couple of years. We had a couple of guys that were good hitters, but nobody who was gonna hurt you, guys who would hit a double or get on base. We knew he was amazing. Now he’s got people around him.’’

Asked to explain the jump in his production Gonzalez said, “just look at my walks.’’

Yo Adrian led the National League with 119 walks in 2009. Last year he walked 93 times. In the first half of this season he’s got 35 walks. It’s simple. There’s no place to hide when you throw against the Red Sox. Pitchers have to deal with him now.

“I don’t know why anybody would give him anything now, even with the players around him,’’ said the Cardinals’ Lance Berkman. “He has that beautiful swing. Put that kind of talent around him and in a ballpark that is tailor-made for that approach . . .

“I don’t know that anybody in baseball is really surprised that he is doing what he’s doing. He’s off the plate with a long bat and he waits a long time and wears that left-field wall out. That’s why he’s a good hitter, because he sees the ball a long time and has the ability to hit an inside pitch on a line the other way. That’s tough to do.’’

“You’ve got to go up there with a game plan,’’ said Gonzalez. “When you’ve got runners on the bases, you just put the ball in play. Don’t worry about the home run. With nobody on base, you drive the ball more, put yourself in scoring position or hit the home run. If I’ve got runners on base, I just try to hit behind the ball. If the pitch is away, you go away. If it’s in, you look in and maybe pull it.’’

Gonzalez is low-key, almost intentionally bland. Spanish-speaking reporters have tried to get him to comment on Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Gonzalez, a Mexican-American, won’t comment. In any language.

Bell misses Gonzo in the Padres clubhouse.

“He was a good teammate,’’ said the closer. “He didn’t talk to the pitchers that much, but he was always talking to the hitters. His locker was only a few down from mine. One time he brought a foot massager and he let everybody use it. He was always having a good time and letting everybody use all of his stuff. When soccer was big the Mexican flag would pop up. We had mariachi bands playing occasionally. I don’t know if you’re going to get that in Boston.’’

The Red Sox have a fine legacy of lefty sluggers coming up big in All-Star Games. Ted Williams hit a three-run walkoff to beat the National League in Detroit in the magical season of 1941. In ’46 at Fenway, Ted went 4 for 4 with two homers, including a blast off Rip Sewell’s eephus pitch. Carl Yastrzemski hit a homer off Tom Seaver in Milwaukee in 1975 and Fred Lynn homered at the Kingdome in ’79. Wade Boggs went deep in Anaheim in 1989.

You could win a lot of money in a bar tonight with the knowledge that the last All-Star home run was hit by . . . J.D. Drew in Yankee Stadium in 2008.

Gonzo’s turn tonight.

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