He admits that it’s a subjective approach, and in this baseball age that isn’t always a popular method when making out a lineup card. Feel and energy and fit can’t be as easily justified as the more quantifiable explanations born of a box score — but instincts tell John Farrell that his Red Sox are better with Jonny Gomes on the field than they are with him in the dugout. So Thursday night, Gomes will bat fifth while making his fourth straight start.
And that it comes with the Sox pursuing a fourth straight win would seem no coincidence to the manager.
“He’s one of the players that makes others around him better,” Farrell said after Gomes reached three times, scored twice, and knocked home a run Wednesday night. “The way he talks the game, the confidence with which he speaks, and he goes out and backs it up with some of the body language and the energy that he displays every night.
“He doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s had to work for everything that he’s received throughout his career, and he’s a guy that plays on the edge. You feel it when he’s standing in the batter’s box, or in the way he interacts with everybody in the clubhouse.”
Going into Thursday night, Gomes’ .248 average and .343 on-base percentage are basically in line with the rest of his career. Home runs and extra-base hits have been less frequent this season, though only slightly so. And nothing in his stat line is overly impressive.
Still, the numbers matter little to Farrell when it comes to Gomes. That was apparent last October, when Gomes hit .188 in the ALCS, then .118 in the World Series, yet was still the Sox left fielder in seven of the final eight games against the Tigers and the Cardinals and their all-right-handed starting rotations.
And it’s been apparent again this week, when Boston has again found itself at a point where push comes to shove. After starting only half of the tilts during the Red Sox’ recent 10-game losing streak, Gomes got a chance to play against right-hander Ervin Santana on Monday … and the Sox won. He was back in there the next night against another righty, Aaron Harang … and the Sox won. So, then, he got another shot with his club opposing right-hander Gavin Floyd a night later … and the Sox won again.
With that, Boston enters Thursday 15-13 in games Gomes starts this season, compared to 8-16 when he’s on the bench to begin the festivities. With Gomes in the lineup, the Sox offense is scoring almost a run and a half more per game than they are when he’s not in there this season — 4.71 vs. 3.38. And dating to the start of last year’s playoffs, the Sox are 26-14 when Gomes starts, while 9-21 when he sits.
But again, numbers aren’t particularly necessary, as some of his teammates will tell you, too.
“He definitely brings an energy,” pitcher John Lackey said. “He brings an attitude, an aggressiveness to the team that guys definitely feed off of. He’s a competitor. He’s a guy you want on your side. You love having him behind you when you’re pitching, for sure.”
“He brings energy, he brings a swagger,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, “and he’s also a pretty darn good player.”
He’s posted a .296/.394/.519/.912 slash line with a couple of homers and seven RBIs over the past 10 days, which is nice, but Gomes notes with some regularity that it’s hard to get in a rhythm when playing time is sporadic, so he says he approaches the game pitch-by-pitch — and that affects the way he plays. Twelve years in he doesn’t think of it as a pressure, but he says he takes a lot of pride in every opportunity, with his purpose being solely to somehow make an impact.
“I don’t think I’m playing out of my shoes right now, I’m just doing what I can to help generate some runs and help this ballclub win,” he said. “‘Spark plug,’ that’s a compliment, but I’m not one to ever applaud hustle or ever applaud playing the game right because I think everyone should.”
Farrell pointed to Wednesday’s second inning as one such example. In a scoreless game, Gomes hit a slow-rolling grounder that required shortstop Ramiro Pena to make an above-average play in order to get an out, but because the batter put that much more pressure on the fielder by busting it down the line, Pena threw wildly and Gomes took second. He subsequently moved up on a wild pitch, and was able to score the game’s first run on a double-play ball.
“It’s not one play inside the game. He’s a smart player. He anticipates situations well, whether it’s on defense or running the bases. He gives you every ounce of effort on every play,” the manager said. “He finds a way to make the most of the situation, whether it’s a play like I mentioned, or a little bit more of the flair of the dramatic late in the game in a pinch-hit situation.”
Sunday showed Gomes in all his dramatic glory — hitting a pinch-hit homer to tie the game in the top of the seventh, then racing in from left to start a fight and get ejected in the bottom of the same frame. Someday, if the Sox recover from this underwhelming start to make something of this season, that moment will be remembered as a catalyst for the turnaround. An unquantifiable moment where the energy shifted.
And, if so, it’ll make sense that Gomes was in the middle of it.
“Even if I do play sparingly,” he said, “I want to get in there and try and affect the game.”