BOSTON -- It's time to call off the dogs on Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and his widely mocked comment that it was "part of God's plan" that the Red Sox did not advance to the playoffs this season.
Yes, it might have been jarring to hear those words uttered in the clubhouse in the immediate aftermath of the team's crushing defeat in Baltimore last week, but you have to know this about Gonzalez: If the Sox had won and the Rays had lost and he had gone on to be named World Series MVP, what do you suppose he would have said? That's right; he would have thanked God and said it was part of The Plan.
That's where his harshest critics -- and they were harsh -- have got it wrong. Gonzalez wasn't using God as an excuse. The filter through which Gonzalez views his entire life is his religious faith, and he makes no secret of that faith.
On his bats, where other players have their names and model numbers, Gonzalez has inscribed PS 27:1. That's Psalms 27:1, which reads, "The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?" Instead of signing a lucrative contract with one of the major bat suppliers, Gonzalez has his bats made by the small Trinity Bat Company, whose owners share his beliefs.
On at least one occasion in the clubhouse, he wore a T-shirt that in large block letters on the front asked, "Who's the Man?" and in even bigger block letters on the back read, "Jesus."
During an interview last winter in his hometown of San Diego, he was asked whether it was dangerous for his father to continue to go back and forth across the border to Tijuana, given the spike in crime and his son's high profile. "He has to put it in God's hands,'' Gonzalez said.
Yes, Gonzalez's words in Baltimore might have sounded like he believed God had a stake in the outcome of baseball games, an off-putting concept for those inclined to think there are more pressing issues for the divine. My initial reaction, I confess, was that he'd picked the wrong time and place for such an utterance. His words did not play well in the Sox front office, either, according to one club official.
But upon reflection in the days since, the realization dawned that there was nothing inconsistent in what Gonzalez had said -- for him. In his world view, God has his imprimatur on all, the highs and lows. It's a belief shared by many, and one that tends to play negatively for those who don't share those beliefs.
Using God as an excuse? Hardly. This comment he made earlier this summer in an interview with WEEI's Rob Bradford goes further in explaining how Gonzalez reconciles his beliefs with what happens on the field.
"The way I am is I work hard in preparation and then the rest is up to God," Gonzalez said. "God doesn't care if I get a hit or strike out. He just cares my attitude is right and my focus is in the right place with him. For me, it's have fun, enjoy the moment every time. If I strike out, put my helmet down, put my bat down and go to the next at-bat.''
That's Gonzalez. That's also the player who makes it his goal to play every day and did not use a strained calf muscle or his surgically repaired shoulder as a reason not to play or as an explanation when his performance suffered. He's not an excuse-maker. If anything, it could be argued that he feels a greater level of accountability because of his belief system.
"I use [baseball] as a way of professing my faith,'' he has said.
The record needs to be set straight on a couple of other comments Gonzalez made. Yes, he did say injuries were a big reason the Red Sox failed, but back in the spring, when he was asked which team would win the division, he said it would be the team that stayed healthiest.
"It's always that way -- the team that stays healthiest wins,'' he said.
And it was completely disingenuous to suggest Gonzalez had blamed the schedule for the team's failings. He was responding to a direct question, the questioner asking him about the impact of the schedule -- this was before the final two games of the season -- and Gonzalez again gave a candid answer. Yes, he said, with the Red Sox so often playing on national TV, that posed an additional challenge for him.
"We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning,'' he said to the interviewer. "This has been my toughest season physically because of that.''
Is that an excuse or a statement of fact? Terry Francona has complained about the schedule. Dustin Pedroia, who plays as if he never sleeps, has complained about the schedule. Players have taken their concerns to management about the schedule. Gonzalez said the schedule had taken its toll on him physically. To suggest he was saying that was why the Sox went 7-20 in September is ridiculous.
There are a host of reasons to be upset about the Red Sox season, especially one that came to such a depressing end. Look at Gonzalez's performance (.338 average, 27 homers, 117 RBIs), and he obviously wasn't one of them. Thank God.
And you can take that to mean whatever you want.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.