Hate to begin a column on the Red Sox’ first playoff victory in five years, Friday night’s rambunctious, reassuring 12-2 thumping of the Rays, with a programming note … but bear with me, because I’m beginning with a programming note.
The rest of the way during this postseason, I’ll be covering the Red Sox conventionally, writing a column from the venue after each home and road game the rest of the way. I’m just going to presume 10 more post-victory columns after Friday will work for you guys. Is that cool? Snarky comments are accepted in advance.
But for Game 1 of this journey, the viewpoint comes not from the press box, but from Section 37, Row 16, Seat 22, where my dad and I caught a few relevant plays in the opener in between trips to the concession stand. I think we’ve caught more games this season than we did my entire childhood, which has added another layer of fun — yes, and sentimentally speaking, meaning — to this season.
Deep in the bleachers where the diehards roam, we were surrounded by fans who didn’t seem all that interested in revisiting the idea of trading Jon Lester for Wil Myers. Go figure.
Here are three players, performances and/or plot twists that stood out:
THE RELENTLESS JONNY GOMES
Remember when Gomes was with Rays, and James Shields and Coco Crisp squared off, and the dugouts emptied, and the teams brawled so viciously that it looked like a choreographed homage to Fisk and Munson ’73, and Gomes, wild-eyed and swinging away, seemed to clobber every Red Sox player that looked him in the eye and even a half-dozen or so who would not?
Yeah, that was a long time ago, huh?
Gomes was once Public Enemy No. 1, Non-Pinstriped Division, at Fenway Park. Now, he’s beloved, and pretty much for all the same attributes and reasons he displayed for Tampa Bay a half-decade ago.
He’s a player whose decent but unspectacular statistics undersell his true value as a hitter. And he’s a teammate who always has the other 24 guys’ backs.
Anyone still griping about giving him $10 million for two years? Ben Cherington knew exactly what he was doing by bringing in Gomes, and it’s worked precisely as planned.
Gomes didn’t have to drop any roundhouse rights on the Rays Monday night, unless that happens to be how you’d refer to his two-run double in the weird fourth inning that tied the game at two.
Gomes’s wall scraper came two batters after Will Myers lined up David Ortiz’s deep drive to right, only to pull away at the last moment as the ball bounced into the stands. Moments later, he scored from second base on Stephen Drew’s infield single, a remarkably heady bit of baserunning that gave the Red Sox the lead for good.
“He’s a smart baseball player,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said afterward “In some ways, with some guys you can take numbers and put them aside. Jonny is one of those.”
Maybe it’s trite to say that winning follows him, though recent evidence makes a compelling case. What is true for certain is that he has the attributes and mind-set common to a winning team.
Whether it’s the key moment in a ball game or a brawl in the middle of one, Gomes again proved he’s someone you want to have in your corner.
WIL MYERS, WEARER OF THE BLEACHER BULL’S-EYE
You know what Myers could have done, right? You know the road he could have taken after what had to be the most frustrating game of his promising career. He could have lied, and said someone from the bullpen yelled “I’ve got it!” at him on Ortiz’s drive, flat-out Howie Clark’d him, and that’s why he peeled off at the last moment.
No one would have known for the better. Hell, some — starting with TBS host Keith Olbermann, whose disavowing of his Yankees fandom clearly has not been countered by more tolerance for the Red Sox — were all but pleading for Myers to say a Red Sox reliever duped him.
But the kid right fielder, who will probably beat out the Tigers’ Jose Iglesias for AL Rookie of the Year, instead made the veteran move: He was accountable. It couldn’t have been the easiest thing for him to do given that he spent the last five-plus innings of the game standing alone in right field while he was mockingly serenaded with his own name, like Darryl Strawberry in 1986, or Jose Canseco a few years later. But that’s what he did.
“It’s a loud crowd,” Myers said. “There’s no calling for the ball there. It’s just a hand motion. Center fielder has the priority, but it was totally my fault. Obviously it hurt. It changed the demeanor of the game.”
Not that he’s getting any sympathy. Not in October. Not when every gaffe gets a nod of appreciation from the other dugout.
“I don’t feel bad for him, brother,” said Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino. “I hope he makes a few more mistakes, knock on wood, because I want to win. But he’s going to be a good player. He’s got a lot of tools. He’s going to be fine.”
JON LESTER, ACE
I’ll admit it if you will: When the Red Sox fell behind, 2-0, through the first 3 1/2 innings, I was getting flashbacks to the 2008 ALCS, with Matt Moore this time playing the role of Matt Garza, the foil to Jon Lester.
Lester gave up homers to Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist — the former after Lester appeared to have him struck out — and this one had the vibe of one of those frustrating losses, like Game 7 of the ’08 ALCS, where the Rays chip away and chip away at Lester and the Sox offense can’t get going.
Myers’s blunder gave the Red Sox offensive life; they batted around in the fourth and fifth innings. But don’t forget Lester’s role in sustaining the Sox’ momentum and stifling the Rays’. After each of those innings, he retired the Rays 1-2-3, on a total of 18 pitches. He was exceptional in between races around the bases for the Red Sox’ offense, and it was precisely what they needed.
Lester had a 2.57 ERA in the second half of the season. He had a 2.57 ERA in September. And his career postseason ERA in nine appearances (seven starts) is now 2.17.
With David Price looming Saturday, it cannot be overstated how important winning Game 1 for the Red Sox really was.
Good thing they have an ace of their own. If Jon Lester keeps pitching like this, what an October this could be.