Braves and Gonzalez have the look of winners

Martin Prado and newcomer Alex Gonzalez celebrate another Braves win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Martin Prado and newcomer Alex Gonzalez celebrate a Braves win. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

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.


Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

Earlier posts today

LIVE from Braves with Gonzo, Heyward and a pennant race

Damon Evans, out of a job, puts his home up for sale

♦ Braves get glowing reviews of Gonzo trade (and is team set?)

Gonzalez improves Braves now but dealing Escobar is risk

136 comments Add your comment

bruce

July 15th, 2010
11:04 pm

Kansas GT

July 15th, 2010
11:06 pm

GT Trumpet

July 15th, 2010
11:07 pm

Sorry to catch your typo but its “the” in the 7th paragraph.

Herschel Talker

July 15th, 2010
11:10 pm

This trade was a no-brainer. Dumping a pea brain whose bat happened to suck this year for a solid veteran was a steal. Yunel may do well in Toronto (although I’d bet against that), but it wasn’t going to happen here. Gonzo is indeed a winner and will serve this team well.

Don B

July 15th, 2010
11:10 pm

He’s a great addition. And a professional. I look forward to seeing some good hits from the shortstop position and solid D.

GTPhenom

July 15th, 2010
11:11 pm

It is simple: The Bravos are taking home the World Series in Bobby Cox’s last season. It is destiny at this point, nothing less.

defacto

July 15th, 2010
11:13 pm

Jeff,

I enjoy your work. This season has the makings of something special. I wonder how the city will respond as we approach the end of the year if the team is still leading or within 2-3 games of winning the division.

I’m not sure the response will be similar to that of the early 90’s but it will be fun to watch.

hipdawg

July 15th, 2010
11:17 pm

Awsome!!!!Going all the way baby!!!!!!!!!!!!

Road Dog

July 15th, 2010
11:18 pm

Welcome to the ATL, Gonzo! Haven’t seen the likes of you in this town since…since… Who was the SS on that 1958 team?? I think in October you are gonna really like it around here!

uga student

July 15th, 2010
11:34 pm

it was reported that when gonzalez walked into the team meeting, he was given a standing ovation by the team

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dawgforlife

July 15th, 2010
11:48 pm

It amazes me when a professional athlete doesn’t play hard. Everyone makes outs. Everyone makes errors; but, the least you can do is give your all. Playing lazily is inexcusible. Its good riddence to bad rubbish. I don’t care who it is…if they don’t play hard, they have to go.

CoreyC

July 15th, 2010
11:52 pm

It is great to see the Braves doing well again. Five or so years ago I got to the point where I was pretty tired of them. It was even better following the Hawks because at least they were slowly working at getting better. It was actually a bit of a relief when the Braves sucked for a year or so because I had had enough of them doing well all season only to choke in the playoffs year after year. It really does look like they could go all the way this and it feels great cheering them on again. Go Braves!

Just curious...

July 16th, 2010
12:07 am

When we (The Braves) win the World Series this year, does Bobby come back and Manage the NL in the AllStar Game next year? That’s the real question!

Ha! Ha! Said the Clown

July 16th, 2010
12:26 am

Let Fredi do that too.

cheshire

July 16th, 2010
12:28 am

Braves win, Phils lose, Mets lose. Up 5 games in the division now. Great way to start the 2nd half.

ben

July 16th, 2010
12:28 am

John Wooden has a famous quote (one of many) :”I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”

Escobar clearly has more talent and more upside than Gonzalez.. Some people are talking about Escobar not being a team player. Baseball happens to be the ultimate team sport. It’s not like basketball (where you can just give it to Kobe) or football (let Manning deliver one great pass after another). And if you watched Escobar during this season, this was a guy turning it around. Lately, he’s been getting the clutch hits and getting on base.
There’s no such thing as addition by subtraction. You’re giving up a more younger, more talented player for someone who is older and more expensive. Do that even make sense? The reality is that good talent is hard to find. Before this year’s bullpen, how many times (and how many relievers have we been through) did we watch the Braves blow save opportunities? Now the talent is there and a solid bullpen is a luxury we have. The same holds true for other positions as well. Most ball players peak in their late 20s and early 30s. Escobar is just getting there. Gonzalez is in the twilight of his career. Players have up and down seasons. It is the nature of sports, especially baseball. Batting averages are high one season. And for whatever reason, the batting averages fall the next season. Escobar tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve; I have no problem with that. I rather see that than see someone who doesn’t care. Escobar was the MVP of this team last year. There were a lot of guys on last year’s team who couldn’t hit even if the baseball was the size of a beach ball. But Escobar was locked in last year, and he really helped carry the team. It’s what makes baseball the ultimate team game. When some guys struggle, other guys step in to shoulder the load. So now that Escobar had his struggles at the plate this year, you gonna bail on him? C’mon. Last year, everyone on Atlanta TV/radio was saying that we couldn’t afford to trade a guy like Escobar. He was the one actually carrying the team. If you’re a manager or fellow ballplayer who doesn’t get along with Escobar, then deal with it. Every player (every person, in fact) has his flaws; and other players eventually learn to deal with it. But you have to think about its upside as well: At the end of the day, Escobar will help your team win ballgames. All of the other stuff doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. And people throw around the word “chemistry” like it’s the magical intangible that makes you somehow win ballgames. No, people, it is talent that wins ballgames. I have followed the Braves since 1991, when everything started to come together. All those playoff teams had so called “chemistry,” but what really helped the Braves win was talent.
Because the trade happened (and there’s nothing we can do about it), I hope Gonzalez has a career year and hopefully he’s the final piece to the puzzle. But I gonna miss Escobar. Last year, he was one of the few highlights for the Braves. When nobody could get on base, my family would happily cheer when Escobar came to the plate. I hope Escobar becomes the All-Star we all hoped he would be. This is his 4th season. I think we should have hung on to him a little longer; I feel the same way about Jeff Francoeur. I see a lot of talent in both former Braves; I hope both reach their potential someday.

As a side note, another thing I worry with a 33 year old player is the chance of injury. It’s a fact of life: older players are more likely to get injured than younger players. I hope Gonzalez can stay healthy and be productive. And best wishes to Escobar; we’ll definitely miss you.

PMC

July 16th, 2010
12:30 am

35,000 and change for a Thursday night game against the Brewers in the middle of July…Don’t tell Fox or ESPN.

no one attends sporting events in Atlanta.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

ABravesFan

July 16th, 2010
12:40 am

Solid game from Alex Gonzalez. The walk (which was unintentionally intentional before the last pitch becoming intentional) was a good sign. I’m starting to buying into the morale boost that the Braves got from parting with Yunel outweighing what stats would otherwise tell us.

Here is hopes that Alex Gonzalez’s Braves stint resembles that of Francoeur’s first 1.5 year with the Braves as opposed to the later Francoeur years (the comparison is relevant since they both share a very similar career OBP).

shut up ben

July 16th, 2010
12:48 am

good heavens ben… let me argue with the book you wrote by simply saying this: Gonzalez> lazy ass escobar. That is all and GO BRAVES!

Bluestreak

July 16th, 2010
1:17 am

Ben, I think Coach Wooden was speaking of talent with heart, not talent with an ego, whiny attitude and no heart. Coach would have thrown Esco off of his team, talent or no, a lot sooner than the Braves did.

Good trade. I hope Esco does great up north and tears up the AL. But if Cito is anything like Bobby, Esco will wear out his welcome there too.

These are the moves championship teams make. See a need and fill it. Didn’t sell the farm (that happened a couple of years ago with Texas…where are you Elvis? Oh yeah, starting in the ASG. Esco was sitting at home. Did we send the right guy?) One more move, a corner OF (maybe the one that led off with a homer tonight) with some pop and we’re going to the WS.

clemson32

July 16th, 2010
1:32 am

GT Trumpet–sorry to catch your typo, but you should have used “it’s” instead of “it is.”

JMAYNE

July 16th, 2010
1:40 am

Good win tonight. On to the next one. Heres to hoping Hanson has his good fastball tomorrow. By the way, does anyone else think that the braves should have split up huddy and lowe. Both sinkerballers. Huddys the ace anyway. Idk, cox knows more than me. Lets root for a sweep!

Remarkable

July 16th, 2010
1:48 am

Heyward’s throw was the game winning play. I was there and watching that rope he threw that one hopped to third. Wow! Love how we hit enough, but would love to see more of it. I couldn’t move until the last pitch by Wagner. We deffinately could use a good hitting outfielder. The guys we have now can play and do, but we NEED a power hitting outfielder who bats in the 300’s if we are really going to WIN a World Series.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Ron Roberts

July 16th, 2010
2:28 am

I know it was only a 2-1 outcome, but I, for one, was glad to see Troy Glaus get 2 hits tonight. He’s been in a SERIOUS slump ,and we’re going to need him to think it’s “May” every month through October.

Eric C.

July 16th, 2010
5:41 am

Ben…I followed the Braves in the mid 1980s when there was talent but mostly losses. AG is a winner.

TheAntiMe

July 16th, 2010
6:20 am

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 …”

Dude is nothing short of amazing. I’m glad he’s on our side. Now I can also say that about Alex G. as well.

TheAntiMe

July 16th, 2010
6:34 am

After reading some of the above comments (Ben), I will say that I have been going at it on espn.com with various columnists, some for and some against:

That Braves players came to view consistent effort from the 27-year-old infielder as a gift is not a great reflection on Escobar, especially given the reputation of the Atlanta clubhouse. It’s an easy place to exist, to thrive, and has been for many years. Bobby Cox likes players; some managers don’t.Buster Olney
================== == ==================== = ===============
I totally agree with you, Buster. I tried to make the same point yesterday to your colleague, Dan Szymborski, and his reply was:
“Yes, there are some problems with Escobar, especially when dealing with some of his issue on and off the field. But you can’t teach or coach talent and if teams can’t coach guys with ego problems or issues with focus, what are they there for? People are complex and if every player was a sports-movie cliche, you could have a calculator manage teams.”

What I tried to impress upon Mr. Szymborski is basically the same thing as you mentioned in your article, which is, Bobby Cox is a player’s manager and only asks two things of his players:
1) That you always hustle and give your best effort.
2) That you always keep your head in the game.

Yunel Escobar was unwilling to consistently do either of those things. There is no doubt that Escobar is a very talented player but, the fact of the matter is that if you can’t play for Bobby Cox, then you can’t play for anyone.

Asheville Dawg

July 16th, 2010
7:01 am

To Ben the book writer, ease up. Escobar came to the Braves young and immature. Four years in was still immature. With the Braves in a pennant race, you can not have someone taking plays off, or sulking. This race will go down to the final week and it will take a supreme effort by everyone to finish first.

FalconUGAFan

July 16th, 2010
7:15 am

Ahhh..a sports culumn by Jeff. Times like this make me miss Atlanta even more. I love it when the Braves are doing well. I’m sorry to see Escobar go. I hope he can work through things and this turns out to be a good move for him. Welcome to the Bravos, Gonzo!

FalconUGAFan

July 16th, 2010
7:21 am

er..that would be column

Sports Review

July 16th, 2010
7:28 am

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Erin Andrews

July 16th, 2010
7:32 am

vea! Braves win!! But did you notice that I’m filing a lawsuit against that nastyhotel chain for allowing my neekid arse to be caught on camera. How dare they!

But hey, I’m trying to put that in my past by focusing on my career so that everyone can just forget that horrible incident. I don’t want to give that man any more power over my life.

OK, back to the Braves! Yea!

scottc

July 16th, 2010
7:34 am

Asheville, I agree completely. This trade was about more than the talent and age factors involved. Way more.

ATLfan15

July 16th, 2010
7:46 am

@PMC: I hope that was sarcasm about the attendance number. The economy is still in the toilet. 35,000 is a good number for a Thursday night game against a 4th place team, while unemploment sits at 9.4% and foreclosures are holding steady in the Metro ATL area.

Heyward…well, it’s just a pleasure to watch him play. In fact, it’s just great fun watching this TEAM play. Scrappy, hustling, ‘don’t quit’ attitude…I love it!

bravesalltheway

July 16th, 2010
7:52 am

francoeur is the odd man out in new york now that beltran is back. :) awesome.

mountain_jim

July 16th, 2010
7:55 am

In spite of it all Ben, I still supported Escobar, until his lazy, poor attitude errant soft toss nearly cost us the rest of Glaus’s season last week. (could have broke his wrist)

I suspect that was the last straw for Cox as well.

Elliptical Logician

July 16th, 2010
7:59 am

You’ve got to read between the lines on Chipper’s comment on Gonzo (”It was a lot quieter”). I think it’s obvious that the other Braves were getting sick and tired of Esco’s preening and moping and posturing and petulance. Baseball is the consummate team sport. With Gonzo on-board, we have one more Brave who puts team first. That’s how you win pennants, folks.

Clay

July 16th, 2010
8:03 am

I like Yunel. I thought the Braves hardly lost anything when Renteria left. Escabar is loaded with talent, makes fantastic plays in the field, and until now has been a clutch hitter, spraying liners to the wall, all over the field. For whatever reason, he turned into a dead pull hitter this season, and hasn’t been the same. Even his clutch hit a couple of games ago was a “worm burner” through the ss/3b gap.

His no-hustle trots to first base, and lack of focus when on base got him in hot water, but I think a play in Sat or Sun’s game was the final straw. He gloved a dribbler with plenty of time, running toward first, then threw just lazily tossed the ball to Glaus, who had to leap and come off the bag to catch it. Glaus then had to tag the runner as he went by, but hurt his wrist, at least a little.

I told my son-in-law right then, “they’re gonna get rid of him.”

Jeff Schultz is the Son of Peanuts

July 16th, 2010
8:09 am

By the way, Lemire over at SI has the Braves at #3 in its Power Rankings this week. These folks haven’t shown much love for our Braves for several months, so being ranked behind the Yanks and the Rays must have been hard for them to stomach. I guess the fact that we’ve got the best record in the NL and have been stomping derriere since May finally gave them no choice but to give us our due.

Pecan

July 16th, 2010
8:11 am

I started to read Ben’s epic, but then when I saw how poorly it was constructed, decided it couldn’t be worthwhile. Short, to the point and well crafted. That’s the way to go Ben.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Paddy

July 16th, 2010
8:28 am

Ben……there is no such thing as addition by subtraction???? You could not be farther from the truth. One of the smartest baseball men I ever met, Birdie Tebbetts, told me that riding a club of a lazy (and sometimes evil) player is the smartest thing a manager can do. It is a sickness that rots from within. No one knew baseball like Birdie!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 16th, 2010
8:44 am

don’t forget the bullpen played solid last night as well- that’s what saved the game for us. would love to see heyward get a few hits tonight- maybe a homer.

TommyP

July 16th, 2010
8:44 am

Ben: Better writing would’ve allowed me to continue on your rant. I wouldn’t have done the deal either but I couldn’t continue reading your tirade.

Also, your statement about baseball being more of a team sport than football or basketball was idiotic. Baseball is the most individual sport of the three. And it’s not even close.

BenKnows

July 16th, 2010
8:47 am

I stopped reading Bens book after the second paragraph. No Ben, baseball isn’t the ultimate team sport. When you stand in the batters box you are alone. When you deliver a pitch you are alone. When you chase down a line drive in the gap you are alone. And sorry, it takes a lot more than just dumping it to Kobe to be successful in basketball…screens, motion, passing. And Manning would would look pretty ridiculous firing off those passes you mentioned without receivers or blockers. Don’t make up crap just to make your post sound legit.

Love the Braves in NC

July 16th, 2010
8:55 am

PMC @12:30 AM: LOVE IT!

Hooter Girl

July 16th, 2010
8:58 am

Anybody (Ben) notice that Francouer did not play last night? Cora was in right field. Ben, I bet you think Obama is the best thing since sliced bread also.