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Adrian Gonzalez on Mark Teixeira and the power of cheesesteak

05.14.11 at 12:04 am ET
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NEW YORK — Sports nutritionists may cringe to know what fueled Adrian Gonzalez in his latest dazzling exploit as a member of the Red Sox. Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with a homer (his fourth in three games and seventh in his last 10 contests), a walk and a sac fly, playing a huge role in the Sox’ 5-4 win over the Yankees.

And after the contest — after he had turned on a Bartolo Colon fastball up and over the middle and driven it into the right field stands — Gonzalez had an explanation.

“I had a great cheesesteak before the game that got me ready. They make some great cheesesteaks here. They definitely rival the Philly ones. I told them if I did good, it was going to be because of that cheesesteak,” said Gonzalez. “I feel good at the plate.”

Right now, even Gonzalez’ double-entendres are flying effortlessly into the night. But obviously, it is more than plays on words that have the Sox dazzled.

Gonzalez is hitting as well as anyone in the majors. His success is clearly a byproduct not just of incredible natural talent — hand-eye coordination and a powerful, graceful swing — but also a remarkable approach. The homer against Colon was evidence of the latter.

Gonzalez is typically looking for a pitch up and away to drive to the opposite field. His three homers in two games in Toronto all left the park to left field. But on Friday night, he altered his approach not to the ballpark (Yankee Stadium has an infamous jet stream to right field) but instead to the pitcher’s approach.

“Bartolo was going to pound me in. I knew that. he wasn’€™t going to give me much to go the other way with,” said Gonzalez. “My gameplan was to pick and choose my spots to look for a pitch middle-in that I could drive to right field. After ball one, I thought that would be a good spot, and I think he left it more middle than he wanted to.

“Success or not is not going to be because of the park,” Gonzalez added. “This is a game of execution. If a pitcher doesn’€™t execute his pitch, I’€™m going to be able to put a good swing on it. If eh executes pitches, pitching dominates hitting everytime. If a pitcher is able to make his pitches, they’€™re going to get me out more often than not. So I’€™m just going up there looking for a pitch I can handle, looking to put a good swing on it. I’€™m never worried about the ballpark. I learned that early, playing in San Diego, that you can’€™t let the ballpark get in your head. So I just go out there, try to execute a gameplan.”

Interestingly, Gonzalez suggested that his knowledge of how to execute that gameplan was in part the product of his time in Texas backing up current Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira in 2005. Teixeira played in 162 games that year, hitting .301 with a .954 OPS, 43 homers and 144 RBI. Gonzalez was relegated to occasional duty as a DH and spot first baseman (for day games, allowing Teixeira to DH).

But the young Gonzalez used that time constructively.

“It wasn’€™t frustrating. I was in the big leagues,” said Gonzalez. “For me, it was great, because it gave me the opportunity to sit in the cage with [Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo] and learn a lot about hitting. Because I wasn’€™t playing, I could just hang out with Rudy. I didn’€™t have to worry about the game. I was just, ‘€˜Rudy, what do you got on this? What do you got on that?’€™ I would just pick his brain. I’€™ve always been a guy who tries to learn as much as I can about hitting from everybody, and Rudy definitely taught me a lot.”

Now, Gonzalez is no longer a backup, nor is he taking a back seat to any hitter in the American League right now — Teixeira included. He leads the AL with 31 RBI and leads the majors in total bases (90).

“This is a player we signed here for a reason, brought over here for a reason, and it’€™s fun to sit back and watch,” said teammate Kevin Youkilis. “I get a great look on deck. He’€™s one hell of a player. It’€™s definitely a lot of fun just to watch him hit the ball to left field, to right field, have good at-bats. He’€™s a special player, and he’€™s definitely showing why the Red Sox were so adamant in getting him.’€

For more on Gonzalez’ time as Teixeira’s teammate, and how it resulted in a brief dalliance with Gonzalez playing the outfield, click here.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, cheesesteak, Mark Teixeira,
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