Jonny Gomes delivered on biggest stage
ST. LOUIS — You might not be able to measure the intangibles that Jonny Gomes brings to the Red Sox, but you can measure the distance of the three-run homer he hit in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. It traveled 387 fist-pumping, chest-thumping feet, according to the good folks at ESPN.
You can also measure the impact it had on Game 4. It was the biggest hit of the game, and like an earthquake shifted the landscape of the series. The Sox now know that they’re returning to Boston, after knotting the series, two games apiece, with a 4-2 victory on Sunday night at Busch Stadium.
There will be another baseball game played at Fenway Park this year, and we have Jonny Gomes to thank.
“The one thing that is a guarantee about this victory is that we get to go back to Fenway, and hopefully celebrate a championship in white unis, something that Sox Nation hasn’t seen in a long time,” said Gomes.
Sure, others contributed. David Ortiz continues to be unpitchable. Clay Buchholz gritted through four innings of one-run ball without his normal velocity. John Lackey, pitching in relief for the first time since 2004, delivered a gut-check eighth inning, and closer Koji Uehara ended the game by picking pinch runner Kolten Wong off first base.
But it was the irrepressible, inimitable Gomes, the ringleader of the beard brigade, who provided more than intangibles this time. He provided the tangible, a three-run, two-out homer into the Red Sox bullpen off Cardinals reliever Seth Maness that gave Boston a 4-1 lead.
It’s the story of Gomes’s baseball life that he came up huge in a game he wasn’t even supposed to be in.
Gomes was only in the lineup in left field because right fielder Shane Victorino was a late scratch because of a balky lower back. That moved Daniel Nava to right.
It turned out to be a fateful change of the lineup card for Gomes and the Sox.
“The one thing I’ve always wanted out of this game was the opportunity, whether that was a uniform, whether that was a pinch hit, whether that was to get a start,” said Gomes. “So, I got the opportunity tonight, and one thing you can guarantee is when I’m in the lineup I’m going to be swinging. And I was fortunate enough right there to put a good swing on a good pitch.”
Gomes picked the perfect time for his first postseason home run. He had been homerless in 15 previous playoff games and was batting .152 this postseason with a .200 on-base percentage coming into Game 4. He was 0 for 9 with a walk in the World Series before he took a 2-2 pitch from Maness out of St. Louis’s Red Sea.
Gomes has come to embody this Red Sox team in a lot of ways, and it was fitting that just when both he and the team were being counted out, he delivered.
There had been a bit of a Gomes backlash after he started over Nava in left field. The Sox had been 7-0 this postseason in games started by Gomes before losing Game 2 of this series.
But in this age of statistical analysis, Gomes’s actual contributions to those wins didn’t measure up to some.
There is no stat line for intangibles or clubhouse chemistry pixie dust. But Gomes left no doubt about his contribution Sunday night.
He went 1 for 2 with two walks and the homer.
“When you talk about a guy like me, pretty much every single at-bat, every pitch I see my career is on the line,” said Gomes. “I mean, every punch-out it’s, ‘See, I told you so.’ Then every hit it’s, ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’ I don’t need any pats on the back or to make it a sob story. I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
The first walk may have been more impressive than the home run and epitomized the relentless mien of Gomes.
He battled back from an 0-2 count in the fifth against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, who flummoxed the Sox early on, to draw a free pass. After Xander Bogaerts walked to load the bases, the Sox tied the game, 1-1, on a Stephen Drew sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lifted Lynn to bring in Maness to face Gomes. The rest is history.
“If I’m fortunate enough to get a mistake, the bat’s going to come through the zone hot, and it worked out,” said Gomes.
Gomes is one of the more unique personalities in baseball.
A free spirit and a spiritual person, Gomes connected his home run with the “Stand Up to Cancer” organized show of support that was held in Busch Stadium after the fifth inning.
Fans, players, and team personnel held up signs with the names of people they were supporting or honoring in the fight against cancer.
Gomes held up two of the signs, one for his high school coach, Bob Leslie, and the other for Brady Wein, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three months.
The sign for Wein said “Brady’s Bunch,” the club lacrosse program founded by Wein’s father as a way to honor his son and raise money and awareness about acute myeloid leukemia, according to the Brady’s Bunch website.
Gomes said he thinks angels above the stadium were looking down on him.
“It really adds to the fairy tale of what today was for me, personally,” said Gomes of being able to hit the home run after holding up the “Stand Up to Cancer” signs.
Jonny Gomes is a lot of things, free spirit, free swinger, clubhouse philosopher. Now, he can add World Series hero to the list.