Gonzalez, Kemp do best to torment former clubs
Expect sluggers to engage in entertaining head-to-head battle this year
LOS ANGELES -- Five homers in three games have Adrian Gonzalez on historic turf, but it's not all that new to the Dodgers' first baseman. He recalled a memorable incident in 2009 with the Padres when he hit 40 homers and fell one RBI shy of 100, the only time in the past eight seasons he hasn't hit triple digits.
"Joe Torre [the Dodgers' manager] walked me intentionally leading off an inning -- in extra innings," said Gonzalez, who went deep three times in Wednesday night's 7-4 win over San Diego at Dodger Stadium. "They wouldn't pitch to me that year with runners in scoring position. I led the league in walks [119, 22 intentional]."
If Gonzalez stays anywhere close to this locked in, nobody will be pitching to him under any circumstances.
You could call it the "Battle of the Exes," the forces leading these two clubs. Matt Kemp, the ex-Dodger, is intent on driving the Padres to exciting new places. Gonzalez, the ex-Padre, is motivated to push the Dodgers back into October competition -- and deeper than in the past two seasons.
The early advantage goes to Gonzalez, not that Kemp -- hitting .385 with three RBIs in the three games, two taken by L.A. -- disappointed anyone. Adrian is just in another world, all his own.
"He's hot," Kemp said. "What can you say? He's feeling it."
Their paths having crossed as teammates for 2 1/2 seasons in Los Angeles, Kemp and Gonzalez are back to being National League West rivals -- and what a rivalry this promises to be, if the entertaining if inartistic opening series is any gauge.
Three Andrew Cashner fastballs were launched by Gonzalez into the right-field seats. In the sixth, Padres manager Bud Black summoned lefty Frank Garces, and Gonzalez settled for an RBI single.
Asked about his best day in baseball, Gonzalez said, "I don't believe in talking about one day. It would be the day you win the World Series."
A San Diego native who lived in Tijuana, Mexico, and spoke only Spanish until his family moved over the border to Chula Vista when he was in the sixth grade, Gonzalez has among his prized possessions an autographed photo taken at a Padres game with Tony Gwynn, his boyhood hero.
Gwynn, the late, great Hall of Famer, and Gonzalez became friendly when Adrian had his 2006 breakout season for the Padres six years after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Marlins, who then dealt him to the Rangers.
"Tony was that guy you wanted to be like," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez had a four-game homer streak and a pair of three-game homer streaks last year on his way to 27 long balls and a Major League-high 116 RBIs. His torching of San Diego's highly regarded staff -- 10-for-13, .769 average, 2.077 slugging percentage -- was off the charts.
"A one-man show tonight by Gonzo," Black said. "He had a terrific series.
"Adrian is a natural baseball player. He's a really polished professional. He has power, the ability to hit for average and use the whole field, do whatever the situation calls for. He's a tremendous player: [Four] Gold Gloves on defense, he's been an All-Star [four times]. He does it all."
Black is quickly getting to know Kemp, acquired in one of general manager A.J. Preller's winter blockbusters.
"He brings a nice energy to the clubhouse and the field," Black said. "I'm a Matt Kemp fan. It's something we talked about -- [Kemp] taking on that challenge of being the guy in the clubhouse, setting the standard."
Gonzalez, whose leadership comes largely in example-setting, calls to mind an earlier superstar first baseman who also wore No. 23: Don Mattingly, his manager and former Bronx Bomber.
"It always felt like work for me," Mattingly said. "Adrian makes everything look easy. I never felt I was as smooth as a guy like Adrian."
Brandon McCarthy, in his Dodgers debut, fell behind off the bat when Kemp singled in the first inning and Justin Upton lifted a towering home run to left.
"He's a superstar player that likes to take on that leadership role," Padres starter Ian Kennedy said when asked about Kemp's presence. "Some guys don't want that role; it's not in their personality. Matt really enjoys it. A lot of younger players look up to him."
Kennedy, who will start San Diego's home opener Thursday against San Francisco, is delighted to have Kemp and Upton on his side.
"That's two superstars," Kennedy said. "They are All-Stars every year, MVP candidates. Being together, they lift each other up. Justin hitting behind him will give Matt more pitches to hit, and it will give Justin RBI opportunities. It works for them -- and for us as pitchers, too."