The pins and needles that Jonny Gomes plays with every day come with knowing that nothing’s promised.
No game. No start. No at-bat.
“He’s a guy that plays on the edge,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “And you feel it when he’s standing in the batter’s box.”
There’s an urgency to use every play to leave his fingerprints on a game.
“Tomorrow’s not a guarantee for me,” Gomes said. “So I just run it out there and any way I can generate a run on the board and hopefully take one off on defense, that’s what I’m going to do.”
With the Sox trying to climb out of the AL East quicksand after recently losing 10 straight games, Farrell saw Gomes as a firestarter for a team in need of the slightest spark.
It wasn’t because he was tearing the cover off the ball. He was 3 for his last 20, hitting .236 for the season. It was because of his urgency.
“It’s always a compliment when he puts me in the game or puts me in the lineup at the beginning,” Gomes said. “I don’t think I’m playing out of my shoes right now. I’m just trying to do what I can to generate some runs and help this ball club win.
In Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over the Braves at Fenway Park, a third straight Red Sox win for the first time this season, Gomes found the smallest way to light the Sox’ pilot light.
Leading off the second inning, he chopped an 0-1 pitch in front of home plate.
As soon as the ball clipped the dirt and went skipping on the infield, Gomes tossed his bat and made a flaming-pants break for first. Speed isn’t necessarily Gomes’s calling card, but hustle is.
With the ball in no rush to get to Braves shortstop Ramiro Pena — taking roller coaster-sized hops though the infield — Gomes knew he could force Pena to make the kind of play that either would be a highlight or disaster.
Pena came charging in to the lip of the grass, grabbed the bouncer on the short hop with his bare hand, and sidearmed it to first.
The throw would’ve been hard to make even for someone who wasn’t coming off shoulder surgery such as Pena.
When it sailed wide of first baseman Freddie Freeman, Gomes didn’t bother flinching before turning for second to get an extra base out of the error.
The Sox had a leadoff runner in scoring position on hustle alone.
Two batters later, Gomes scored on a Daniel Nava double-play ball.
On a night when Sox starter John Lackey was dominant (6⅓ innings, nine strikeouts), scratching out the early run allowed Lackey to get comfortable.
“It’s not one play inside the game,” Farrell said of Gomes. “He’s a smart player. He anticipates situations well whether it’s on defense or on the bases. But he gives you every ounce of effort on every play. He finds a way to make the most of the situation.”
In a season filled with potholes, the Sox were trying to slowly continue to build some momentum. “On the heels of what we’ve come off of,” Farrell said, “much needed.”
The Sox hadn’t won three straight since last September when they did it against the Yankees at Fenway.
“Obviously not ideal, but I tell you what, no one truly had their head in the sand,” Gomes said. “No one was really ready to throw in the white towel on the season by any means. It’s just a rough patch. But this team does a pretty good job on turning the page, cleaning the slate once we leave these double doors here.”
A.J. Pierzynski gave Lackey more breathing room in the third with a ground ball up the middle that plated Xander Bogaerts, who created the scoring threat with a one-out double.
For the third straight game, Jackie Bradley Jr. came through with an RBI, shooting a run-scoring double down the line and off the Wall on the hop in the sixth inning to give the Sox a three-run lead.
Gomes’s single in the seventh scored Dustin Pedroia to make it 4-0.
Pierzynski extended his hitting streak to seven games, during which he’s hit .387. He lifted his batting average with runners in scoring position to .325.
Bogaerts is settling into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He has reached safely in 10 of his last 11 games.
“We went through a tough place, 10 games in a row that we lost,” Bogaerts said. “Hopefully things turn around, and we’re on a good roll right now.”
Scoreless relief work from Chris Capuano, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow in the last three frames slammed the door on the Braves and gave the Sox their first shutout of the season.
“We’re not looking too far ahead,” Lackey said. “One game a day, come back tomorrow and get after it tomorrow. You can’t make up 10 games in one day. You’ve just got to keep grinding at it and hopefully look up here in 40, 50 games and we’re back in it.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.