You can choose to remember the guy who made the mistake, or you can choose to remember the guy who made the mistake memorable.
The indelible image from the Red Sox’ triumphant return to the playoffs after a three-season absence was Tampa Bay Rays rookie Wil Myers playing Fenway Park’s right field like horror movie villain Michael Myers.
With his team leading, 2-0, in the fourth inning, Myers butchered a David Ortiz fly ball and killed the Rays’ momentum and their chance of stealing Game 1 of the American League Division Series. That’s the storyline after the Red Sox romped to a 12-2 win over the Rays Friday at Fenway on the strength of a five-run fourth made possible by Myers’s nightmare.
But Myers’s miscue will live in playoff baseball infamy because the leader of Boston’s beard brigade, Jonny Gomes, is around to contribute much more than clubhouse levity and team bonding scruff. Gomes delivered a two-run, game-tying Wall ball double one batter after Myers’s adventure in outfielding. Or it would have been a forgettable footnote.
The Sox added three more runs in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead, and Gomes was in the middle of it all.
Gomes has become a symbol of this picaresque, redemptive team that has forced a city that wanted to turn its back to baseball to embrace with an open heart, a changed mind and, for many mimicking their hardball heroes, a fuzzy face.
The box score will say 1 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs. But numbers can’t capture Gomes’s contribution to the Red Sox’ first playoff win since 2008, or this magical season.
“In some ways, with some guys you can take numbers and put them aside. Jonny is one of those,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “The two-run double off the wall today, that was the reason why Jonny chose to come to Boston, and he demonstrated why this is where he wants to play. He fits what we do so well, and the way he goes about the game rubs off on other players in the clubhouse.”
Gomes picked the perfect time to deliver his first career postseason hit (he had been 0 for 7). It came after Dustin Pedroia led off the fourth with a single up the middle, the Sox’ first hit of the game against Tampa starter Matt Moore, who had held them to a .109 average during the regular season.
Then Ortiz followed with his gift ground rule-double via Myers’s gaffe. After Mike Napoli popped out, Gomes struck.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Gomes of the Myers misplay. “But one thing I’ve always said with my playoff experience is you play 162 games, a lot of innings, a lot of pitches, a lot of runs and one thing you can guarantee is you’re going to see something you haven’t seen all year. You saw it right away.”
Proving that his wooly beard is not an aerodynamic detriment on the basepaths, Gomes gave the Sox a lead they wouldn’t relinquish later in the fourth. He raced around from second to score on Stephen Drew’s two-out dribbler.
It was a reprisal of the base-running guile Gomes displayed on Opening Day. In the season opener against the Yankees, Gomes alertly scored from his second on an infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury.
“Yeah, we were talking about that in the dugout,” said Gomes. “You don’t get 97 wins throughout the 162 games by waiting for the three-run homer. We generate runs any way possible, and that’s not just my hustle from second. That hustle is erased if Stephen Drew doesn’t hustle to first, so it’s double hustle.”
Gomes also scored from first in the three-run fifth, when Farrell put runners in motion for a two-run double by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that chased Moore after 4⅓
The 12 runs the Red Sox scored were the most in the team’s playoff history without the benefit of a home run. That was more than enough for Sox starter Jon Lester, who allowed only a pair of solo homers, one to Sean Rodriguez after what should have been an inning-ending strikeout in the second, over 7⅔
Lester proved worthy of the Game 1 starting nod. He allowed just three hits, striking out seven, including the first four batters of the game swinging on just 18 pitches.
It was fitting that it was Jon and Jonny who shared the postgame news conference table.
Friday might have been the first time in four years the Sox played a playoff game — the last one prior to Game 1 was Oct. 11, 2009, when the Angels beat the Red Sox, 7-6, at Fenway. But Gomes is a playoff regular.
He is on a team that made the postseason for the second straight season and the fourth time in the past six seasons.
In all those seasons, Gomes was part of a renaissance, as a team that had posted a losing record the season before won its division and made the playoffs.
But he had only batted in two of those postseasons — 2010 with the Cincinnati Reds and last year with the Oakland Athletics.
Gomes had said before the playoffs that he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a complementary piece that could help a team get to the playoffs.
No one was surprised Gomes delivered the biggest hit of the day and allowed the Sox to capitalize on Myers’s mistake.
“Yeah, you got to take advantage of opportunities you get in the playoffs,” said Napoli. “We were able to do that. Jonny had a huge double to tie the game.”
But no one would be talking about Myers’s fly ball faux pas if Gomes hadn’t followed it with a clutch hit.
Gomes made Myers’s play — and the Sox return to the playoffs — a memorable one. Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.