LOS ANGELES — A bucket of fried chicken, some beer, a monumental collapse and a destructive loss on the final day of the 2011 season have potentially turned the Dodgers into a modern-day wrecking crew. All courtesy of the Boston Red Sox.
You’re probably saying ‘Huh?’ right now — but follow along.
In December 2010, the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed him to a seven-year, $154-million contract, and signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million free-agent deal — and most viewed the pick-ups as a guaranteed $296-million ticket to the playoffs for the ensuing several years. The dynamic duo arrived in Boston with seven combined All-Star Game appearances, three Gold Gloves, stolen-base crowns . . . the moves were supposed to stabilize first base, left field, the leadoff spot and the clubhouse for the better part of the next decade.
Didn’t quite work out that way.
Sure, Gonzalez batted .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBI in 2011 and led the team with 86 RBI so far in 2012, but Crawford was another story, with his lack of productivity and knack for getting injured making him the object of derision from Red Sox nation.
The heat turned up at the end of last season, as Boston, after holding a 9-game lead over Tampa Bay on Sept. 3, lost 18 of its final 24 games, including a season-ending, bottom-of-the-ninth defeat against Baltimore, which completed one of the worst collapses in baseball history.
And then there was the bizarre case of starting pitcher Josh Beckett, who was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA, good enough for ninth place in the Cy Young Award voting. He lost his last two starts of the season, and it was reported that he’d spend many games he wasn’t pitching in the clubhouse eating fried chicken and drinking beer with fellow gourmet, John Lackey. He was a brutal 5-11 this season in Boston, and was the subject of trade rumors since spring training.
So on Saturday afternoon, the Red Sox punched a new ticket — to a fresh start — sending Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett and infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers in exchange for highly regarded pitching prospect Allen Webster, along with first baseman James Loney, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr. and a pair of players to be named later: likely pitcher Rubby De La Rosa and versatile infielder/outfielder Jerry Sands.
As for the new Dodgers, they were met with open arms by the Chavez Ravine faithful on Saturday, and Gonzalez immediately hugged them right back. In a scene seemingly ready-made for Hollywood, Gonzalez, the California native, sent the second pitch he saw as a Dodger into the right-field seats down the line for a three-run homer (off the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2000, no less), sending the crowd into a frenzy and the Dodgers on their way to an 8-2 win.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Gonzalez said in front of media and fans during a news conference. It was held on the field behind home plate following the game. “We’re going to make a run at the (division) title. It’s a good day for all of us and great to cap the day off with a win.”
The scene was far different in Boston, where the front office faced the media after throwing in the towel on its high-priced experiment.
“I think we recognized we’re not where we want to be,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who sees his team now at 60-67 after blowing a six-run lead in an extra-inning loss to Kansas City on Saturday, 9.5 games out of a wild-card spot under new manager Bobby Valentine. “It’s been a large enough sample performance going back to last year that we felt . . . we needed to make more than cosmetic.”
So Cherington and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti put together one of baseball’s all-time blockbuster trades. And while the Red Sox fade into obscurity for the rest of this season and maybe a few more, the Dodgers are doing everything they possibly can to bring a world championship to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988. And the new Dodgers are all very happy to switch teams and leagues.
Punto — who won a World Series with St. Louis in 2011 and like Gonzo is a Southern California native — provided the levity during the interview session.
When Adrian was asked to talk about his first at-bat, Punto jumped right in. “Me? OK, I . . .” then he started laughing and tapped Gonzalez on the shoulder while the crowd and the players enjoyed the moment.
Things got serious again quickly, though, as Gonzo intimated a number of times that he had made a mistake in allowing a sign-and-trade deal between the San Diego Padres and the Red Sox following the 2010 season.
“We all make some decisions that you regret later,” he said at one point. “I’m not going to get into any specifics, but we all live our lives and do things we wish we could take back sometimes. I know that every day I was there I gave it my all when I was on the field and did my best to win. But I’m really, really happy to be here in Southern California.”
Beckett seemed extremely relieved to put the last part of his tenure and all the criticism he received into the history book and turn the page.
“Fair or unfair, that’s the way things are sometimes,” the 6-foot-5 right-hander said. “For me, yeah, I think it was time for me to move on and start this new chapter. I wish everybody (in Boston) the best. I played there for seven years and made some great friendships, but it was time for me to move on. It was time for both sides.
“This was something I wanted. It was tough leaving Boston. I had awesome times there, I had tough times, but there are great people there. I’m looking forward, though, to starting a new chapter and wearing blue.”
Finally, Beckett — who will start Monday against Colorado at Coors Field — was asked if the team was as good as it looked on paper.
“Yeah, it does,” he replied. “But we don’t play games on paper. And from what I saw on the field today, they’re very, very good on the field, as well.”
Which is very good news for the Dodgers, both in his evaluation and him being in the dugout instead of the clubhouse during the game.
Notes: Andre Ethier went 4 for 4, tying a franchise record with his 10th consecutive hit (set when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn). Ron Cey previously held the Los Angeles record with nine hits in a row. It was Ethier’s second straight four-hit game. . . . Matt Kemp is ecstatic about his new teammates, especially Gonzalez. “It means a lot to have Adrian here because it gives us a lot more confidence. I mean, this is a guy that can drive in 100-plus runs every year. He’s definitely going to help us tremendously.” . . . Catcher A.J. Ellis marveled at his team’s willingness to pick up almost $300 million in salary to get the deal done. “Shows these owners aren’t playing around,” he said.