— NIX - Adrian Gonzalez took one look at the Green Monster during a visit to Fenway Park last winter, and knew it was the place for him. Anybody who watched his opposite-field power stroke during his years with the San Diego Padres thought the same thing.
The Boston Red Sox put $154 million over the next seven years behind the idea.
And you know what? Gonzalez's first half in a Red Sox uniform has exceeded all of the elevated expectations.
You can measure it any way you'd like, but if this continues, we could be looking at the best mega-free-agent slugger signing since Barry Bonds headed west from Pittsburgh. "It's ridiculous,'' Red Sox DH David Ortiz says of his teammate of a half-season. "He makes it look too easy.''
Gonzalez built an all-star-level career in relative anonymity in San Diego and the suffocating hitting conditions at Petco Park. As much as opposing pitchers would allow, he put the Padres on his back and almost got them into the playoffs in two of the last four seasons.
But it doesn't take a math major to see the chasm between Gonzalez's road and home numbers as a Padre in 2008-10:
Put Gonzalez in a hitters' park that suits his swing, surround him with a handful of other All-Stars, and you get these first-half AL MVP numbers in a Boston uniform:
A league-leading .354 batting average, 29 doubles and 77 RBI; the league's second-best slugging percentage (.591) and OPS (1.006), third-best on-base percentage (.414), and 17 home runs.
On top of everything he's done in the first half, Gonzalez almost added a Home Run Derby title on Monday night at Chase Field. But after tying the final-round record with 11 homers to bring his overall total to 31, Gonzalez saw Robinson Cano go one better, winning 32-31.
The home-road breakdown to Gonzalez's first half :
Boiling it all down, he's gone from a .257 hitter in his home park from 2008-10 to a .383 hitter in a half-season his new home park.
"That's the biggest difference; Petco won't allow a (.380) hitter,'' Gonzalez said through a smile. "I was a .250 hitter there."
But there's much more than an extreme park differential at work here. To Gonzalez, the best way to measure how differently he is being pitched to this season because of the other All-Stars around him in the Red Sox order is his decreased walk total. He is at 35, and on pace for only 67. The last three years with the Padres, he averaged 95, including a league-leading 119 in 2009.
"I'm a guy who goes up to the plate with a plan,'' Gonzalez said. "When pitchers pitch away from that plan, I take (pitches). So a lot of my walks in San Diego were a product of pitchers not pitching to me.
"I go up to the plate here in Boston, and if I take a pitch, a lot of times I'm in an 0-1 count. Once you take strike one, you get ready to hit because you know they're not going to walk you.
"It's the dynamic of the offense that we have. I think we've scored the most runs in the league so far. We have a great offensive team. One through six in the lineup has been constant (production).''
And just listen to Gonzalez's teammates, who've seen there's more to him than a smooth swing and big offensive numbers.
"It's been fun being around him, watching his approach, watching the way he goes about things,'' Jacoby Ellsbury said. "It's nice to see from my perspective as a young player. He's one of those true professionals, He gets there early, watches video, and there's just a nice easy approach to his game. It's impressive.''
Added Ortiz: "His whole program is perfect. He's a guy who you don't see worry about going 0-for-4. Because he knows he can come back and go 4-for-4.
"He never talks about a slump. He never says, 'this pitcher is nasty'. He never talks about anything negative. You never see him mad. He's fun to watch. His approach is unbelievable.
"And when you talk with him about hitting, his mentality is totally different than everybody else. It's like talking hitting with Barry Bonds. I talked to Barry Bonds a few times, and it was on a level where you say, 'wow are you serious?' But if you can put it into play, it works. Just not everybody has the ability to do what those guys can do.''