KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Despite playing a game with the vim and vigor of a high school freshman half his age, Adrian Gonzalez felt every one of his years on his 30th birthday as he wearily dressed in the visitors’ clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium following Tuesday night’s 6-4 loss to the Royals.
A small gift bag and well wishes awaited Gonzalez after he went 2 for 3 with a walk and a double, and broke a 3-3 tie by scoring the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Royals second baseman Chris Getz.
Gonzalez complemented his offense with several outstanding defensive plays, including a diving stab of Alcides Escobar’s checked-swing nubber in the fifth inning and a heads-up scoop on Escobar’s bunt for a put out at the plate that prevented Jeff Francoeur from scoring the tying run in the seventh.
“He was huge,’’ said starter Daniel Bard, who got 15 ground ball outs, 12 involving the Red Sox’ Gold Glove first baseman. “He’s as good as it gets over there. It gives you confidence when the ball is hit that way. With him and [Dustin Pedroia] on that right-side infield, if they don’t get to it, I don’t think any right-side infield is getting to it.
“It’s a good feeling for a guy like me who tends to give up his fair share of ground balls,’’ Bard said. “It’s really good to have confidence in those guys.’’
Gonzalez went into Tuesday night’s game fully expecting the opposition to hit more ground ball outs with Bard on the mound.
“You’ve got to be ready for it, yeah,’’ Gonzalez said. “He has really good stuff and guys are going to cheat to get to balls and that means they’re going to hit a lot more ground balls.’’
Gonzalez showed superior athleticism on Escobar’s checked-swing, laying out for it, then from his knees, flipping the ball to Bard, who darted off the mound to cover first.
“Pedey would’ve been there,’’ Gonzalez said of second baseman Pedroia. “It was a checked swing and I didn’t want it to end up being a dribbler that ended up being a hit. There was not much to it, just get there.’’
Gonzalez reserved his biggest defensive play for the seventh when the Royals put a pair of runners aboard after Bard gave up singles to Francoeur and Mike Moustakas. Chris Getz’s sacrifice bunt advanced both runners, bringing up Escobar with one out and the tying run at third.
After Escobar swung at the first pitch, Gonzalez noticed the batter look to third base coach Eddie Rodriguez. Signals were exchanged. Gonzalez’s antennae went up when he noticed Rodriguez whisper in the ear of Francoeur at third.
“It’s one of those things where you say, ‘Hey, something might be on,’ ’’ Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez sniffed out the bunt, came crashing in from first, scooped it up and fired to catcher Kelly Shoppach, who made the tag on Francoeur for the second out of the inning. Bard extricated himself from the jam by striking out pinch hitter Brayan Pena.
“Not everybody makes that,’’ Bard said, lauding Gonzalez’s heads-up play. “He must have anticipated the bunt because I didn’t see it coming. It was an 0-1 pitch and I figured [Escobar] had already swung at the ball and maybe he was swinging again.
“But that was just good baseball awareness to crash it.’’
Gonzalez, though, chose to deflect the praise toward Shoppach.
“I think that that play more than anything was all Shoppach,’’ Gonzalez said. “He would’ve been safe if it wouldn’t have been for Shop blocking the plate. I did the best I could with it, but at the end of the day, it was all Shop.’’
It all went for naught when Royals’ DH Billy Butler clobbered a three-run homer off reliever Matt Albers to give Kansas City a 6-4 lead, thus spoiling Gonzalez’s birthday.
“I feel like a 30-year-old man right now,’’ Gonzalez said. “I’m going to go read the Bible, have some Bible study, get some sleep and get ready for tomorrow.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.