Gonzo going, going ... once again

Gonzo helps Dodgers, for now

LOS ANGELES -- The irony of it all is not that Luis Gonzalez hit a three-run, first-inning homer on Saturday into the right-field seats at Dodger Stadium to help defeat his old Arizona mates.

No, the real irony is that Gonzo finds himself in the same position with the Dodgers as he did a year ago: on the way out another door.

"Honestly, I don't think I'll be here [next year] unless things change dramatically," said Gonzalez, after his latest team prevailed, 6-2, to pull within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Diamondbacks in the National League West with little more than two weeks left to play. "They're playing young players here who are going to take over. They're going to be here for a long time.

"I've been around a long time. I can read the writing on the wall. I know what's going on around here."

First priority for Gonzalez is making it to the playoffs, he said. Next up is finding another team that wants a left fielder with a ragged throwing arm, who turned 40 on Sept. 3. For like last year, Gonzalez made it very clear on Saturday that he's not ready to quit.

"No doubt, no doubt, I love playing the game," he said. "It doesn't matter if I'm 50 years old. I love competing. When I lose that love and drive, that's when I'll walk away from the game. When I know I can't play this game anymore at a decent level, then I know it's time to walk away."

Not now, of course. Not in the immediate future. Last year when his eight-year Arizona tenure ended, it was over his prone body. Gonzalez was the regular left fielder and wasn't ready to relinquish the position. He wanted to stay, but management had different ideas and told him before the end of the season that he wasn't welcome back.

As part of their youth movement, the Diamondbacks moved Eric Byrnes to left field, put Chris Young in center and for one reason or another have started six players in right.

Gonzalez thought he had found a new home as the starting left fielder in Los Angeles and signed a one-year, $7.35 million deal. It hasn't quite worked out that way here, either, as manager Grady Little has tried to balance his veterans with up-and-coming outfielders such as Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.

And during this key six-game homestand against the Padres and Diamondbacks, Gonzalez has started every other game. Something must be working because the Dodgers have won four in a row at a crucial time heading into Sunday's finale to close the gap in both the division and Wild Card races, which are very much up for grabs.

"It's been different," said Gonzalez, who's hitting a very respectable .279 with 14 homers, 23 doubles and 64 RBIs in 131 games. "Right now, it is what is. As long as we continue to win games, that's all that matters."

Little, for his part, has called this his most challenging season. At times, he's been the sounding board for a revolving door of disgruntled players who have stomped into his office with concerns about their status and playing time.

Little, in his second season managing here, called the Dodgers "a work in progress."

He also said his job isn't to keep the peace. "My job is to win games," he said. "It isn't to make any friends."

Contrary to popular opinion about the way the Dodgers hierarchy might work, Little said he's never been told what to do by upper management, and that good or bad he alone takes responsibility for all his decisions.

"Frank and Jamie have been great to work for," he said of the McCourts, who own the club. "There's no interference. And Ned [Colletti, general manager] leaves me alone. We're all on the same page and that's the way it should be."

Still, Little harbors no delusions if the Dodgers miss the playoffs after opening the season with a $108.5 million player payroll. The club exercised its option this past March on Little's 2008 contract and added an option for 2009, "but that doesn't mean anything," he said.

Only success does.

From the perspective of a player who's toiled for five teams in his 18-year career (including the Astros twice), Gonzalez also understands that part of the equation. That's why he hopes the mostly young Diamondbacks "get into the panic mode and help us out."

"We're just trying to win games," he said when asked about the steady stream of players into Little's office. "They have their decisions to make and we just go out there and try to win games."

With 14 more of them to play for the Dodgers, Saturday's was a big one. Gonzalez said it jazzed him somewhat to hit a big homer against his old team. But with a postseason berth in the balance, the time for that kind of gloating has passed.

"I have a lot of great friends on that club," he said. "New management came in and went in a different direction. For me it was just time to move on."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.