Two days before learning he had been traded to the Braves, Alex Gonzalez heard his cellphone buzz. It was a text message from his agent.
“I got a message on Monday,” Gonzalez said Thursday in a heavy Latin accent. “It said, ‘Do you like St. Louis?’ I don’t text back,” he added.
So it was at 10 a.m. Wednesday, on the final day of Gonzalez’s three-day All-Star snooze, that Gonzalez was awaked at his Miami home by the sounds of a ringing cellphone. He didn’t answer it. Moments later, it rang again. He didn’t answer it. “10 o’clock — too early for me,” he said.
Finally, he got up to check the caller ID. It was his agent from California. “I thought I’m sure I was traded,” he said. “But I thought it was St. Louis.”
When Gonzalez phoned his agent and learned he had been dealt to the Braves, he was ecstatic. Suddenly, he was waking up on a first-place team. “It makes me feel proud,” he said.
Join the club.
It is feel-good time around the Braves these days. How can it not be? Look how they opened the second half of the season. Jair Jurrjens threw his second straight impressive game since coming off the disabled list. The bullpen was solid. Martin Prado and Chipper Jones hit home runs.
Jason Heyward — he was only Willie Mays. In his return from the disabled list, he threw out a Milwaukee base runner (Casey McGehee) who dared try to go from first to third on a single in the second. Then he gave everybody in Turner Field heart palpitations in the fourth when he crashed into the right-field corner as he caught a McGehee fly ball and then was sprawled on the ground for a few minutes.
“It happened so fast — I don’t even remember what I hit,” he said.
Not sure if that’s reassuring or not. But this should be: The Braves opened the second half with a 2-1 win over Milwaukee. They looked every bit the pennant team that they resembled before the break.
And how’s this for irony: The final out of the game was a shortstop named Escobar (albeit Milwaukee’s Alcides) lining out to Gonzalez. The new guy, playing his first game as a Brave after being acquired from Toronto for Yunel Escobar, walked and doubled in four at-bats and played flawlessly at short.
When asked how it was playing with Gonzalez, Jones smiled and said, “It was a lot quieter.”
The Braves entered the All-Star break in first place for the first time since 2003, prompting Jones to comment: “It feels like home.”
If you were hoping for foreshadowing Thursday for more of the same, it came early. In the first four innings, Jones and Prado homered and Heyward had his two defensive gems. Manager Bobby Cox said of Heyward, “He won the game for us.” Jurrjens cracked that when he saw his teammate hit the wall, “I started cussing him out. We don’t need anybody else on the disabled list.”
Heyward tried to put everybody at ease, even while laying on the ground, answering “concussion questions” even before they were asked. “I told them, ‘My name is Jason Heyward. I play for the Atlanta Braves. Monday was an off day …”
At this point, only an injury of significance seemingly can derail the Braves. They’re playing that well – consistent, aggressive and north of their talent.
Gonzalez is taking it all in. He left a fourth-place club for a first-place club. He didn’t arrive at the stadium until 4 p.m., just in time for a team meeting, quickly took batting practice, ate, met with the media, took the field and received a nice ovation before his first at-bat.
Cox was thrilled to have him. He spoke to Toronto manager Cito Gaston on the phone to get some insight into the player. “No problems,” Cox said. “He’s a professional. Players like him.”
Gonzalez said he would not put excessive pressure on himself just because he was joining a team in a pennant race.
“I’m ready,” he said.
As the Braves appear to be.
Earlier posts today