The Indispensible Alex Gonzalez
|10.04.09 at 4:00 am ET|
As soon as Alex Gonzalez took a Kerry Wood fastball off the hand, anxiety spread. Just as quickly, however, Gonzalez put it to rest.
Much to the relief of the Red Sox, the shortstop said after getting drilled in the hand that he was fine. On Saturday morning, X-rays confirmed the fact. Though the initial fluoroscope on Friday showed what Gonzalez called “a little line” on the back of his hand, further tests ruled out a fracture.
Gonzalez, who sat out as scheduled on Saturday, had some swelling in his hand, but reported that he was pain-free. He did not swing on Saturday, and instead iced his hand before and after the game.
He remained hopeful that he might be able to play on Sunday, in the regular-season finale. More significantly, all signs pointed to Gonzalez being available when the playoffs begin against the Angels.
“We got the results back,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We’re thrilled.”
The reason was obvious. Gonzalez, in less than two months since the Sox re-acquired him on Aug. 14, has become nearly indispensible.
Part of that is a commentary on the team’s limited depth behind him. Backup Nick Green remains hampered by a bulging disc that is pressing against a nerve and causing weakness in his leg. Jed Lowrie remains limited in his left-handed at-bats thanks to his ongoing recovery from surgery on his left wrist in April, and entered last night hitting just .145 with a .203 OBP and .226 slugging mark. Chris Woodward has the second-worst OPS in the majors (.564) since the start of the 2006 season.
“Having a guy of Gonzo’s ability to write in every night makes it easier,” said first-base and infield coach Tim Bogar. “That just gives you the consistency of having the same guy out there every night. You know what you’re going to get.
“You don’t want to lose a guy of his quality. I also know that Nick’s not feeling good and Jed’s probably not at 100 percent yet. It would have been a detriment to us not to have him.”
But that is not only because of the limitations of Gonzalez’ shortstop brethren. There is little question that Gonzalez has contributed immensely to his team’s playoff drive. Though he missed all of last year with a knee injury, and had spent further time on the sidelines while with the Reds, he has been in the lineup nearly every game since rejoining Boston.
Gonzalez has been an everyday player in every sense of the word, playing in 43 games (tied for second most on the club) since joining the Sox on Aug. 15. In the 42 games he has started, the Sox are 26-16 (.619).
“That’s the one thing he said when he came over. He goes, ‘I want to play,’” said Francona. “I have no problem running him out. He prepares every day. He takes good care of himself. There’s no reason he can’t play everyday. He’s done a good job. You start getting some injuries like he had with the knee, those are pretty serious things.
“It’s one thing for a guy to say I want to play and then go out there and limp. But he’s taken care of himself to the point that he can go out there and be a real good player.”
Indeed, Gonzalez has delivered better-than-expected production since virtually the day that he arrived. After hitting just .210/.258/.296/.554 for the Reds, Gonzalez has delivered a vastly improved offensive line of .285/.318/.438/.755.
His defense, meanwhile, has helped to stabilize the Sox infield. An area of at-times acute weakness has been solidified with Gonzalez’ return to Boston.
“We were really well below the average, well below where we wanted to be at shortstop defense for a significant part of the season,” said Sox G.M. Theo Epstein. “Bringing in Alex, who’s been really steady since he’s been here was a significant upgrade, in part because of how reliable he’s been, how good his hands are, how good his arm is, his instincts, but also in part because of the performance we had early. That’s been a steadying influence on our overall defense and our pitching staff since he’s been here.”
Now, Gonzalez will have the opportunity to continue to offer that influence to the Sox during the postseason. That fact came as a relief to the shortstop, who waived his no-trade clause to return to Boston.
“To get hurt like that, be out for the season, it would be frustrating, especially since we’re going to the playoffs,” said Gonzalez. “That’s what I live for: the team in the postseason, trying to win the World Series. Thank God it didn’t happen.”
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