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Marwin warmly welcomed in return to Houston

Astros pay tribute to Gonzalez's key role in 2017 championship
@brianmctaggart and @dohyoungpark
April 22, 2019

HOUSTON -- The drive from his home to Minute Maid Park on Monday afternoon brought Marwin Gonzalez a great sense of familiarity. The route to the visitors' clubhouse, however, came with a few strange turns. What finally made Gonzalez feel at home was the reception he received once inside. Gonzalez,

HOUSTON -- The drive from his home to Minute Maid Park on Monday afternoon brought Marwin Gonzalez a great sense of familiarity. The route to the visitors' clubhouse, however, came with a few strange turns. What finally made Gonzalez feel at home was the reception he received once inside.

Gonzalez, the Twins' third baseman whose two-out, game-tying home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series ranks as perhaps the greatest home run in Astros franchise history, made his first trip back to Houston when the Twins opened a three-game series against the Astros on Monday.

Wherever Gonzalez went on the field prior to the game, fans were yelling his name as a handful of former teammates -- Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jake Marisnick, Gerrit Cole and, of course, Jose Altuve -- came over to exchange handshakes, hugs and memories.

"It feels good," said Gonzalez, who drove Altuve's car to the ballpark. "This place was the place that gave me the road to the big leagues, and I spent the last seven years of my life, of my career, over here. And I get to sleep in my own bed, too."

Gonzalez was the first player Jeff Luhnow acquired only hours after taking over as general manager late in 2011 and was a centerpiece of the Astros' rebuilding efforts. Gonzalez and Altuve were part of an Astros team that lost 111 games in 2013 and won the World Series four years later, thanks in part to Gonzalez's stunning homer at Dodger Stadium that tied the series, 1-1. He also broke up a Yu Darvish perfect-game attempt with two outs in the ninth inning with a single on the second day of the 2013 season.

The Astros were planning to celebrate Gonzalez's time in Houston with a video tribute prior to the game.

"It feels great when people talk good about you," said Gonzalez, who's been the Twins' starting third baseman with Miguel Sano injured. "I did my best. I did all I could every day I was out there. I appreciate everything they said about me."

In seven seasons with Houston, Gonzalez provided the club remarkable versatility with his ability to play all over the field while being a productive player. He hit .303 with 23 homers and a team-leading 90 RBIs and a .907 OPS during the Astros' championship season and was the starting left fielder in the playoffs.

"He was invaluable for me as a manager," AJ Hinch said. "I could move him around the field and he became the answer to a lot of issues that came up. ... It's hard to put in context all the different things that he did, and maybe some things that we don't remember until he's gone and you notice how many guys it takes to fill in the role he played. He's beloved in our clubhouse. While we wanted him back, he'll be missed. Part of that banner that hangs up there is because of his contribution."

Altuve and Gonzalez were extremely tight in Houston. Both native Venezuelans, they remain close friends, though the competitor in Altuve wasn't about to show Gonzalez too much love as they prepared to meet.

"We have a great relationship off the field," Altuve said. "I wish him the best. He's a great guy, he's going to be probably my friend forever, but not on the field."

The Twins signed Gonzalez, 30, to a two-year, $21 million deal as Houston chose to move in another direction. The Astros, though, will never forget the contributions of Gonzalez.

"Without Marwin, we don't have rings on our finger and that championship here in Houston," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We can all be grateful and thankful for what Marwin did for this organization."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.