Adrian Gonzalez was only 22 years old when he broke into the majors with the Rangers in 2004. But even then, Michael Young believed he had the look of a future batting champion.

"He had .300 hitter written all over him," Young said yesterday.

Seven seasons later, with Gonzalez starring for the Red Sox [team stats] and Young still piling up hits for the Rangers, the former teammates are running neck and neck for the AL batting crown. Boosted last night by two hits, including another home run, Gonzalez holds a 10-point lead, .347 to .337.

Ask either hitter about the other, and their mutual admiration is apparent. Young marvels at Gonzalez' ability to drive the ball to all fields. Gonzalez praises Young's knack for making adjustments within an at-bat, often from swing to swing.

Gonzalez, now 29, is a .293 career hitter who also has slugged at least 30 homers in four consecutive seasons. Young, 34, has a .303 lifetime average and recently collected his 2,000th career hit.

Both spent the formative stages of their careers learning from the same master, former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

"The best thing I learned out of the time here, through Rudy being hitting coach and watching guys like (Young), is how to make that quick adjustment so it doesn't affect your entire at-bat," Gonzalez said. "(Young) stays with his approach, has a great swing, and he can hit a line drive to any part of the field."