Adrian Gonzalez makes history with early-season homer barrage
Adrian Gonzalez is off to the hottest start in major league history, by at least one measure. The 33-year-old Dodgers first baseman has homered in each of the first three games of the season, capped by a three-homer performance against the Padres in Los Angeles' 7–4 win on Wednesday night. That made him the first player ever to total five home runs across the first three games of the season.
Facing the Padres at Dodger Stadium, Gonzalez homered to right-centerfield—over the head of former teammate Matt Kemp—in each of his first three plate appearances against starter Andrew Cashner. With two outs and nobody on in the first inning, he drilled a 97 mile per hour fastball on the inside of the plate, cutting the Padres' lead to 2–1. Leading off the third inning, he hit a 94 mph fastball that caught just a bit more of the plate and bounced off the top of the outfield wall on its way out to give the Dodgers a 5–2 lead. Leading off the fifth, he connected on a 93 mph fastball that was right over the middle of the plate with a towering shot that ran the lead to 6–2. The last of those was the longest of the three, with an estimated distance of 415 feet, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker.
Via MLB.com, here's Vin Scully calling those three homers:
Gonzalez had a chance to become the 15th player in major league history—the first since Josh Hamilton for the Rangers on May 8, 2012, and the first Dodger since Shawn Green on May 23, 2002—to homer four times in a game. But when he faced lefty reliever Frank Garces with two outs and runners at the corners in the sixth, he settled for an RBI single up the middle, capping the scoring at 7–4. It appeared that he might have another plate appearance in store in the bottom of the eighth when Jimmy Rollins reached on a three-base error by centerfielder Wil Myers with two outs, but Myers recovered to run down Yasiel Puig's fly ball for the final out of the frame, leaving Gonzalez on deck, and Joel Peralta closed out the Padres in the ninth for the save.
Even with that, it was the first three-homer game of Gonzalez's 12-year major league career and the majors' first three-homer game since last June 9, when the Indians' Lonnie Chisenhall hit three against the Rangers; the Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Orioles' Chris Davis both hit three in a game earlier in the season. Eighteen other Dodgers have hit three in a game, the last of whom was Juan Uribe, who completed the hat trick against the Diamondbacks on Sept. 9, 2013. He's also the most recent player from any team to do so at Dodger Stadium.
Via the Elias Sports Bureau, Gonzalez is the first player to homer five times in the season's first three games. He's hardly the first to homer in each of the first three games of the season, however. Via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, 14 other players have done so since the start of the 1993 season. Three—Mark McGwire (1998), Nelson Cruz (2011) and Davis (2013)—homered in four straight games, joining the esteemed company of Willie Mays (1971) in that regard. Gonzalez will have to wait until Friday, when the Dodgers face the Diamondbacks in Arizona, for a chance to join them. He has one homer in eight plate appearances against scheduled starter Chase Anderson; that came last Sept. 6 at Chavez Ravine. Among Dodgers to open the season with homers in three straight games, Gonzalez joined the company of Carl Furillo (1955, when the team was still in Brooklyn) and Jimmy Wynn (1974). If you're looking for omens, note that the Dodgers won the World Series in the first of those seasons and the NL pennant in the second.
Dating back to the end of last season, Gonzalez now has homers in five straight games. Among Dodgers, Roy Campanella (1950) and Green (2001) have homered in five straight games in the same season, though that's still a far cry from current manager Don Mattingly, who as a Yankee in 1987 homered in eight straight games, tying the Pirates’ Dale Long (1956) for the major league record; that pair has since been joined by the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr. (1993).
What's more, Gonzalez is a combined 10-for-13 at the plate so far, hitting an absurd .769/.769/2.077 and leading the league in several categories. With at least three hits in three straight games to start the season, he's the first major leaguer to do so since the Tigers' Chris Shelton in 2006.
Add it all up and Gonzalez's hot start is a particularly encouraging sign for the Dodgers, who over the winter shed two of the other four players from last year’s team who reached double digits in homers in Kemp (25) and Hanley Ramirez (13, signed with the Red Sox). Gonzalez's 27 homers led the team and matched his 2011 total with the Red Sox as his highest of the past five seasons, offering a sign that he's fully healed from the October 2010 surgery on his right shoulder that caused his power numbers to dip. The last time he hit at least 30 was in that '10 season, when he totaled 31 for the Padres, and even that was a step down from the career-high 40 he hit in '09.
Gonzalez now has 267 homers for his career, 14th among active players. At the rate he's going, he could reach the 300 home run club this season, with No. 400 a possibility before the end of his current contract following the 2018 season.