New arrival Adrian Gonzalez signs autographs before his Dodgers debut… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Only two pitches and Adrian Gonzalez was already illustrating the vision the Dodgers had when they inherited $260 million in salary commitments to acquire him from the Boston Red Sox.
Gonzalez redirected an inside fastball from Josh Johnson inside the right-field foul pole for a three-run home run, and the same fans who were on their feet when he first stepped into the batter's box were standing again, only this time they roared even louder.
When Gonzalez completed rounding the bases after his first-inning blast in the Dodgers' 8-2 victory over the Miami Marlins, Matt Kemp was waiting for him at the plate. Hanley Ramirez was in the on-deck circle. Andre Ethier was climbing up the dugout steps.
The centerpiece of a historic nine-player trade that was completed earlier in the day, Gonzalez was far removed from the drama of the Red Sox and now part of a middle-of-the-lineup quartet that was arguably the best in baseball.
Talking of what the addition meant to his lineup, Manager Don Mattingly recalled how he was once a coach on a New York Yankees team that batted a young Robinson Cano ninth.
"It's getting there," Mattingly said.
Mattingly unveiled what he said would be the Dodgers' everyday lineup: Kemp batting third, followed by Gonzalez, Ramirez and Ethier.
"How do you mix and match them?" Mattingly said. "They're all stars. They all can't hit third."
The four players have made a combined 14 All-Star appearances. They are all still in the primes of their careers, between the ages of 27 and 30.
"It's great, man, it's awesome," Kemp said.
He wasn't the only player in the clubhouse who was smiling.
Ramirez was too.
If you were a pitcher, whom would you pitch around and to whom would you pitch?
"I'm going after me," he said. "I'm the easy out."
Ramirez hit .306 with six home runs and 31 runs batted in in the 28 games he had played for the Dodgers entering Saturday.
Ethier is now the Dodgers' No.6 hitter. He started the season as the cleanup hitter. He is a two-time All-Star who signed a five-year, $85-million contract extension earlier this season.
When asked about his new spot in the lineup, Ethier couldn't stop smiling.
"I think you just chuckle inside and laugh because of what we were faced with last year at this time and where we were to start the season," said Ethier, who set a team record by getting hits in 10 consecutive at-bats. "I just want to stay in this lineup any way I can. I've waited a long time to play on a team of this caliber."
Mattingly considered batting Ethier second, but the manager wanted to keep Mark Ellis there because of his ability to move over runners. Also, batting Ethier sixth stretched out the middle of the lineup.
Kemp, Ramirez and Ethier were reluctant to call the Dodgers' lineup the best in baseball.
"I don't know how you can judge that," Ethier said. "So let's go out and prove it, I guess."
But asked whether the improved lineup was enough to erase their deficit to the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West, Ethier was more certain.
"I think it definitely can," he said.
Mattingly offered this thought: As dangerous as the lineup appears now, it could be even more so next year.
One of the four players the Dodgers acquired from the Red Sox was outfielder Carl Crawford, who underwent reconstructive elbow surgery this week and didn't make the cross-country flight.
Crawford, 31, could be back on the field as early as March and when he does, he figures to be the Dodgers' left fielder and leadoff hitter.
A four-time All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford was one of the most highly coveted free agents in the winter leading up to the 2011 season. But injuries have limited him to 161 games in the first two seasons of the seven-year, $142-million deal he signed with the Red Sox. His production was so underwhelming that the Red Sox told the Dodgers they had to take Crawford and his contract if they wanted Gonzalez.
In his final season with the Rays, Crawford batted .307 with 19 home runs and 90 RBIs. He also had a league-leading 13 triples.
"It's not just now," Mattingly said. "The future is really bright."