PHOENIX -- Heading into the World Baseball Classic, slugger Adrian Gonzalez assumed the title of captain for Team Mexico. He helped recruit players, organize the roster and serve as what manager Rick Renteria called a clubhouse "uniter."
On Friday night, with his team in dire need of a win over the favored United States after losing its Pool D opener to Italy on Thursday, Gonzalez reminded his team and a packed Chase Field crowd of 44,256 that he possesses another talent: the ability to hit a baseball very far.
Gonzalez has connected with his team all along, but he hadn't connected with a home run until Friday's third inning, when he launched an R.A. Dickey pitch to the deepest part of the park, high above the 413-foot sign in the right-center field power alley. The ball bounced back onto the field after hitting a fence in front of an open-air seating area, but an instant-replay review by the umpiring crew upheld the two-run shot.
It gave Mexico a 4-0 lead it wouldn't relinquish in a 5-2 win and got a largely pro-Mexico crowd rocking as Gonzalez's teammates hopped out of the dugout to greet him once the homer was ruled official.
"Yeah, the home run arrived and it gave us two more runs to give the pitchers more like a feeling that they can be more aggressive," Gonzalez said after Friday night's win. "And, sure, yes, I felt a bit down after being defeated yesterday, but we fought.
"We had many opportunities to keep going ahead, and we didn't do it yesterday, and that's why today it was such an important day, because we needed to get ahead, we needed to put ourselves in place to win. And that's why I feel ... well, we all feel very excited and ready to fight tomorrow.
"What we have said from the beginning of the practice is that we have our blood, we have Mexicans' ... this fighter's blood, and we are never going to give up."
Gonzalez had already driven in his team's first run of the game with an RBI fielder's choice in the first inning and added three walks to help ensure that his team would get at least one win in first-round play and would enter Saturday's game against Canada with a good chance to improve to 2-1 and have a shot at advancing to the second round in Miami.
Friday's winning pitcher, Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers, said the team fed off the energy in the crowd but had come in ready for the vaunted American team, partially because of Gonzalez's positive reinforcement in a quiet locker room after the Thursday game that got away.
"He's awesome," Gallardo said. "Talking to Adrian, he's the leader. He's the leader in that clubhouse. Obviously we all know yesterday was a tough loss, but just after the game going in there, just cheering everybody up, making sure nobody has their head down and prepared for the game today."
And Gonzalez also can hit, which wasn't forgotten. Not by Gallardo.
"Trust me, I faced him before," said Gallardo, who has been roughed up a bit by Gonzalez in their career meetings, with the hitter going 4-for-11 with a triple, home run and four RBIs against the pitcher.
"Leave something out over the plate, up in the zone, he's going to take advantage of it. And it was awesome. Just to add a few more runs off of [Team USA starter R.A.] Dickey, I mean, he's not easy to hit."
On Saturday, Mexico will play another must-win, and this time the club will be facing Canada, which lost to Italy by 10 runs on Friday and is in a similar situation to the one Mexico experienced entering Friday.
Fortunately they'll have Gonzalez on their side, and he might be heating up at the right time.
"This is an amazing victory for Mexico," Gonzalez said in the afterglow. "The only thing is that we don't have a whole lot of time to enjoy. We have to win tomorrow. And if there is no win tomorrow, then we don't go to Miami. We have to win. We have to win."