LOS ANGELES -- Adrian Gonzalez is quiet. His mannerisms on the field are almost as reserved as his demeanor in the clubhouse.
He goes about his business with a soft-spoken nature that has resulted in him being painted as everything from professional to aloof, depending on his locale and production, over the course of his career.
The playoffs, however, have a way of changing the perception of players and teams.
During the course of the National League Championship Series, Gonzalez has gone from a wallflower to a lightning rod of criticism as the St. Louis Cardinals have grown increasingly tired of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ theatrics on the field.
It began in Game 3 when Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said Gonzalez was heckling him from third base. “Mickey Mouse stuff,” Wainwright said.
“I did what I always do,” said Gonzalez, who insists he never heckled Wainwright. “We are in LA, so Mickey Mouse stuff does go. So if that's, you know, Mickey Mouse is only an hour away. So, you know, it fits us. I did what I always do.”
On Wednesday, Gonzalez’s “Mickey Mouse” act continued after his 450-foot home run into the right field pavilion in the third inning gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. He flipped his bat and after he touched home plate he gestured Mickey Mouse ears with both of his hands on his head as he neared the dugout.
“The Mickey Mouse ears, I was just having fun with the comment that was made earlier,” Gonzalez said. “Nothing against them or anything; it was just to have fun.”
The Cardinals certainly didn’t think it was funny after the game, but didn’t want to continue their war of words in the media heading into Game 6 in St. Louis on Friday.
“They have the right to do whatever they want to,” Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. “We’re here to win a game and they can do whatever they want to do.”
After Game 3 Carlos Beltran was critical of Yasiel Puig for flipping his bat after he thought he hit a home run and for celebrating on third base after it turned out to be just a triple. Beltran, however, was tight-lipped about Gonzalez and the Dodgers’ celebration as they exploded for four home runs in Game 5 after not hitting a single homer through the first four games of the NLCS.
“I don’t know,” Beltran said. “I think home runs are … you got to celebrate those.”
Gonzalez hopes to celebrate a few more home runs this postseason, but said he wouldn’t flash the Mickey Mouse ears in St. Louis.
“I'm going to retire them so they're not talked about once again,” Gonzalez said. “It's just something that doesn't need to be talked about. It was just for fun, like I said. I don't need it to get out of hand here because it shouldn't be.”
Carl Crawford, who was traded to the Dodgers last year from the Boston Red Sox along with Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett, is hoping he’ll see the ears again after the way Gonzalez played on Wednesday. He went 3-for-4 with two home runs. It’s the 10th multihomer game in Dodgers history, and the second of this postseason for the Dodgers after Crawford’s two homers in Game 4 of the NLDS.
“Once you start it, you've got to keep going,” Crawford said of Gonzalez’s ‘Mickey Mouse’ celebration. “I'm pretty sure it rubbed them the wrong way and they're going to use that as some kind of fuel, so you might as well keep doing it, Adrian."
Gonzalez, who coincidently enough wore a Mickey Mouse T-shirt when he walked into the Dodgers’ clubhouse for the first time after the trade over a year ago, laughed when he heard Crawford’s answer.
“Hey, if Carl wants them,” Gonzalez said. “It's for him, not for anybody else.”
As heated as this series has been, it has avoided any ugly moments that could have escalated matters. The Dodgers never retaliated after Joe Kelly inadvertently hit Hanley Ramirez, fracturing one of his ribs, with a fastball early in Game 1. And the Cardinals never felt the need to send a message to Gonzalez or Puig after their on-field celebrations.
“I don’t think this is any time for any extracurricular activity,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “It’s just all about baseball right now. Both these teams have one goal, and that’s to make the World Series. There’s no time to try to be concerned with unwritten rules or the way guys are acting on the field. That’s going to distract you from your goal, and that’s winning four games and going to the next round. If this is a July game and somebody is trying to send a message, that’s probably acceptable, but this is all about baseball right now.”
Ellis said that simply seeing the same team for five, six or seven games in a playoff series breeds a certain amount of familiarity and a rivalry that simply cannot be recreated.
“We don’t do this during the season; you only play three- and four-game series,” Ellis said. "So for us to see a team for a fifth time and now a sixth time, there’s definitely a familiarity. I told David Freese when he came up to bat in the fifth inning, ‘I got no more jokes for you. I got nothing to say. I’ll save it for next year.’ He started laughing. There are no more secrets anymore between the two teams. Everybody knows where everybody is at, and everybody knows how they want to pitch them.”
Beyond the theatrics of the Dodgers and the sensitivity of the Cardinals over the past five games, there is a sense that the seeds are being planted for what could be the beginning of a long rivalry for supremacy in the National League between these two teams, no matter who goes on to win this series.
“I know they’re not going away, that’s for sure,” said Dodgers outfielder Skip Schumaker, who played for the Cardinals the previous eight seasons and won two World Series titles in St. Louis. “With their farm system, it’s impressive. We have a veteran crew over here so that’s the one difference.”
Punto, who won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2011 with Schumaker, thinks this season’s NLCS is just the start of things to come for the Dodgers and Cardinals, who have built a foundation for continued success with ownership groups committed to winning.
“We could be seeing this for a while,” Punto said. “There’s a good chance of that happening. With the ownership group they have in L.A. now, I think they’ll always be contenders, and with the young talent the Cardinals have, this could be a long-term thing.”