LOS ANGELES — After he was traded to the Red Sox in December 2010, Adrian Gonzalez produced numbers worthy of his mammoth contract, but both sides admitted there was something missing about his 282-game stint there.
Gonzalez was businesslike and didn’t assume a major leadership role. Instead he chose to keep his head down amongst the chaos, put up his numbers, and retain a permanent stoic expression while the team was imploding.
Here in Los Angeles, more than a year removed from the cost-cutting trade that sent he, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, Gonzalez is showing the personality, passion, and leadership that was missing during his time with the Red Sox.
With the Dodgers’ season at stake, and their offense having spent the first four games of this National League Championship Series lacing mostly singles, Gonzalez sparked a much-needed power surge in Game 5, smashing two solo home runs while Crawford and A.J. Ellis also went deep as the Dodgers held on for a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in front of 58,183 sun-drenched fans at Dodger Stadium.
Gonzalez belted a John Axford pitch into the left-field corner for his second shot of the game and a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning. The four Los Angeles homers tied a club record for most in one postseason game after going without a homer for the series.
The Cardinals made it interesting by scoring two in the ninth, but closer Kenley Jansen struck out Adron Chambers with two on to send the series back to St. Louis, and make a hero out of Gonzalez.
Never accused of being fiery, Gonzalez has displayed emotion on more than one occasion during the series. When he dropped an RBI double down the right-field line in Game 3, he thrust his hands twice toward the Dodgers bench in exuberance, directly in the sight line of pitcher Adam Wainwright, who called the antic “Mickey Mouse.”
So, when Gonzalez headed back to the dugout after his first home run Wednesday — off St. Louis righthander Joe Kelly — giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning, he made Mickey Mouse ears with each hand before he greeted his teammates.
“I was just having fun with the comment that was made earlier,” he said. “Nothing against them or anything. It was just to have fun. You’re in the playoffs. You’ve got to have fun. If you’re not having fun in the playoffs, then you don’t deserve to be here.”
Gonzalez has become a leader on this team almost out of necessity. The Dodgers played Game 5 with a hobbling Hanley Ramirez, who left after three at-bats to nurse a broken rib sustained in Game 1. He has managed just two bloop singles since the injury and has a .167 slugging percentage in the series.
Matt Kemp is traveling with the team, but he is also motoring around the clubhouse on a scooter that has a resting place for his aching left ankle. Andre Ethier is lumbering around center field with a sore left ankle. So the Dodgers desperately needed power.
Gonzalez has power potential but Crawford surprised with his fourth home run in 39 postseason at-bats. He hit six during 435 at-bats in the regular season.
“Well I just started feeling better towards the end of the year,” Crawford said. “Luckily the body felt good, the swing started to feel better, so that enabled me to look for some pitches to drive.’’
The homers offered enough support for Zack Greinke, who shook off two laborious innings to hold the Cardinals to two runs in seven frames. He was far from his sharpest but retired the last 13 batters faced, as St. Louis missed on its first opportunity to close the series. Last season, the Cardinals led the San Francisco Giants three games to one but dropped Game 5 at home and then both games at AT&T Park.
St. Louis loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but came up empty when Matt Adams struck out and Yadier Molina bounced into a 5-3 double play. The Cardinals rallied to even the game at 2 in the third but Molina ended that with a tapper to the mound for another double play.
“We’re definitely excited about the opportunity we had right there,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “There was a little momentum going, no question. Our guys have been so good all season long in that situation but it does happen. It is a momentum shift, no question.”
The Los Angeles victory sets up an interesting scenario for Game 6. Clayton Kershaw, who led the majors in ERA, goes on full rest in Game 6. and he should be ready for a long outing after tossing just 72 pitches in Game 2
“I feel fairly comfortable,” Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. “Obviously didn’t like being down 3-1 and now not necessarily thrilled about having another elimination game. But I feel pretty good about Clayton pitching and our chances of getting a seventh game.
“If you look at it, we’ve kind of become America’s team because everyone wants to see a seventh game. Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure everybody’s for us to win on Friday night.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe