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Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Adrian Gonzalez shows some flair

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

The St. Louis Cardinals might beg to differ.

Gonzalez brought a clap of thunder to the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, jolting the Dodgers' dugout and stadium – maybe even their World Series hopes -- to life and probably got on the nerves of some of the Cardinals.

After Gonzalez launched the first of his two home runs about 20 rows up into the right-field pavilion in the third inning of the Dodgers' 6-4 win in Game 5 on Wednesday, he did a couple of things that caught people who know him by surprise.

Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez offered to retire the Mickey Mouse ears for the rest of the series, but teammate Carl Crawford wasn't having it.
First, he did a bat flip that would have made Yasiel Puig blush, helicoptering the thing about 10 feet in the air as he moseyed up the line. Then, after crossing the plate, he charged toward the Dodgers dugout mimicking Mickey Mouse ears, a playful jab at Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright's complaint earlier in the series about some of Gonzalez's actions at third base.

Few people had seen that before from Gonzalez, who has a reputation as a serious, focused professional.

"Never. Never," said somebody who's known him, oh, about 31 years, his older brother Edgar. "Adrian's the calmest guy. It surprised me when he showed that emotion, but he's stepping up to the moment. He's always even-keeled, so big situations don't come up too big for him, but it's coming out now and he's letting it out. I like it."

Gonzalez seemed a little bashful about the whole thing. He offered to retire the Mouse ears for the rest of the series. His teammate, Carl Crawford, wasn't having it, though.

"I'm pretty sure it rubbed them the wrong way and they're going to use that as some kind of fuel, so you might as well keep doing it, Adrian," Crawford said.

The Cardinals probably don't like it. Maybe it will become an emotional rallying cry for later in the series, which continues Friday in St. Louis, the Cardinals still leading by a game. Who knows if it will? Who really cares? The Dodgers started playing their best baseball right around the same time they started looking like they were having fun together, in June.

When Puig came up from Double-A Chattanooga -- already carrying a reputation for showmanship and questionable decision-making -- people wondered whether Gonzalez would rub off on the rookie. It wasn't a coincidence that the Dodgers put their lockers next to one another. It turns out the rookie has rubbed off on the 10-year veteran.

And, on a warm day in Southern California sunshine, the Dodgers' bats finally came to life. After hitting seven home runs in the division series against the Atlanta Braves, they had gone down meekly to this point against St. Louis and its carousel of hard-throwing pitchers. Gonzalez launched a pair of homers, Crawford hit one even further -- his fourth of the postseason -- and A.J. Ellis connected too.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the first of Gonzalez's home runs traveled 450 feet. The stadium, which had begun Wednesday with quiet trepidation when Zack Greinke loaded the bases, went nuts, both when Greinke escaped it and when Gonzalez broke a 2-2 tie. The dugout came alive.

Dodgers infielder Michael Young played with Gonzalez way back when in Texas. He had never seen him play to the moment as he did Wednesday.

"Obviously, he's pretty excited to be in the postseason right now," Young said. "We have a really good team. We're playing a good team. Emotions run high."

Young and Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis might be the two players least likely to flip a bat, so they were both keen on downplaying the incident.

"He meant no harm," Ellis said.

You've got to cut guys a little slack at this time of year. The last time Gonzalez was in the playoffs, in 2006, his San Diego Padres went out quietly to the Cardinals, though he batted .357. He's in his prime now and he's finally on a team with legitimate title chances. Clayton Kershaw, who takes the baton from Greinke and tries to keep the Dodgers' season alive one more day on Friday, said it best earlier this series. You never know when you'll get back to the postseason. You might as well savor it. Make the memories last.

"Like I said, we're in the league championship series here," Gonzalez said. "Just trying to have fun, enjoy it and just not try to force anything. Just let the game happen. When I'm at the plate, I'm serious, trying to execute my game plan. But other than that, I'm just having fun."

Gonzalez's game has evolved in the past few years. From 2007 through 2010, he averaged more than 34 home runs per season. Since then, having undergone shoulder surgery, he has averaged 22 home runs per season, but his RBI totals, always around 100, have stayed steady, largely because he is a .328 lifetime hitter with runners in scoring position. As much as any hitter in baseball, Gonzalez adjusts his approach to the situation, the pitcher and score. He's as analytical as they come.

Every once in a while, even the most focused clinicians have to cut it loose. This is October.