SAN DIEGO -- The last time Adrian Gonzalez played in a game at Petco Park prior to Tuesday night it was almost two years ago. His Padres were in a pennant race. They had blown a big lead to the Giants and on the final day of the regular season came up short. Sound familiar? Now, he's back as a late season add to the Dodgers, who blew a big lead to the Giants. This time San Francisco has run away with the National League West. Los Angeles is hanging on for dear life in the race for the NL's newly-created second Wild Card berth, 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals with eight games to go now after a tough, 2-1 loss.
In the meantime, there was this nearly two-year stop in Boston, where last September he endured another historic pennant-race collapse when the Red Sox were eliminated on the final day of the season. This is getting to be a habit. "It can only get better," said Gonzalez after smacking two singles in four at bats. "You always have to look at the optimist's point of view. We have to focus on this year. We still have a chance. Just the fact that I've been in the middle of a playoff race, there's something to be said for that. Better to be in this situation than the teams that are out of it." It has been a dizzying two years since Sept. 30, 2010, the day the Padres closed the home portion of that year's schedule with a 1-0 loss to the Cubs. From San Diego to Boston to L.A., has it been hard to adjust? "You don't," said the 30-year-old San Diego native of Mexican descent. "You just roll. It's hard to adjust to all that. I was all settled in in Boston and everything got turned upside down with the trade in a good way." He had no inkling the deal was even coming. Despite the standings, thus far it's worked out. "It was a toxic situation for him over there," said Dave Roberts, a Padres coach then and now who shares the same agent with Gonzalez, John Boggs. "It's good for him to be [back out west]." Gonzalez seemed right back at home talking to the media on Tuesday night before the game, although for the first time he found himself sitting on the bench in the visitor's dugout while his former club took batting practice. He seemed at ease jogging down to his accustomed spot at first base, where he chatted with Roberts and a couple of members of the Padres' training staff. After all, this was his 398th game at Petco where he's a .267 hitter, the first 397 of them playing for the Padres. Each time he came to bat he was met with a smattering of boos and jeers from the crowd of 32,346. In the usual paradox, cheers erupted when he launched the base hits. "It doesn't feel weird. It feels like home," said Gonzalez, who talked breezily about his favorite taco shops and restaurants in and around San Diego County. "I got a lot of calls from people who said they were coming. Nobody asked for tickets, which was good. I got a lot of texts." Afterward, he summed it all up. "Playing back here was fine," he said. "It's sour right now because we should have won the game. But it was great for me to be back and have that experience." Much has been written and said about the problems that beset the Red Sox during A-Gon's short stay in Boston. But one has to wonder if he has any remorse about leaving San Diego where he existed in a wonderful comfort zone during his five years playing for the Padres. He batted .288 for the Padres with 161 homers and 501 RBIs, adjusting his left-handed swing away from the vacuous confines of the vast right field in this nine-year-old downtown yard. On Oct. 3, 2010, the Padres lost, 4-2, to the Giants at AT&T Park. For Gonzalez and the Padres the season was over. The Giants went on to defeat the Rangers in a five-game World Series. Two months later, A-Gon was gone, traded to Boston for four Minor Leaguers, only one of whom, pitcher Casey Kelly, has a chance to have any impact. The Padres were in ownership transition and strapped for cash. They had Gonzalez under control for one more season, but they deemed it unlikely that he would sign an extension at the money they had to offer, that he would opt for free agency as soon as he had the opportunity. "That was their assumption," Gonzalez said. "I have to answer that question a lot when I'm around here. 'Why did you leave?' I say, 'Well, I didn't leave. I was traded.' I understand. People don't understand a lot about the baseball logistics. That's just my answer. I go straight out that I didn't leave. "I was traded. I was never offered a contract. Would you accept a contract that was never offered?" As it turned out, Boston had him at a bargain in 2011 for $6.3 million on the final year of his Padres contract. They quickly signed him to a seven-year, $148 million deal that kicked in this season at $21 million. The Dodgers inherited six full seasons and about $130.5 million when they obtained him on Aug. 25 along with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto. It was noted that the Padres wouldn't have been able to even come close. "That's an assumption that 99 percent of the people would have taken," he said. "For me? I don't know how much they would have offered. I don't know what their limit was. We're living in a lot of hypotheticals there. Right now I'm just trying to win [some] games here." It's really no hypothetical. Consider that the Padres player payroll was $45.8 million last year and $55.6 million this year. They weren't about to spend more than one-third of their budget per season on one player. And so Gonzalez may not have left by his own volition, but he certainly moved on and has since moved on again. On Tuesday night, the long road took him home where it all started.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.