BOSTON – When the Rays went from worst to first in 2008, Jonny Gomes was front and center.
“Guys like Jonny Gomes did help turn the Devil Rays into the Rays, absolutely he did," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
Now he's in Boston, helping to lead another worst-to-first transformation.
"[Guys] draw a lot of confidence from him because [of] the way he plays the game, the way he talks about it," said Sox manager John Farrell. "And, seemingly, he's in the center of things that we've done off the field, whether it's in response to the Marathon tragedy here or things that our group does off the field . . . \
"[Whether] it's a high number of players going to a team dinner [or whatever], Jonny is right in the middle of the party.”
With the Rays scheduled to start lefties Matt Moore and David Price in Games 1 and 2, respectively of the American League Division Series which begins Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, Gomes will be right in the middle of the action as the Red Sox starting left fielder. He hit .236/.347/.447 against left-handers this season, including 2-for-12 (.167) with a double, two RBI and five strikeouts against Moore, and 4-for-20 (.200) with a double, an RBI, a walk and six strikeouts against Price.
His history with the Rays -- Gomes was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 18th round in 2001 and made his debut with the then-Devil Rays in 2003 -- won't be a factor. Well, maybe a motivational one.
“The organization gave me the opportunity to start and the organization . . . had faith in me,” he said. “That being said, I want to kick their butts. I definitely dig down and try harder against these guys.
"But I [last] played [there] in 2008 – there aren’t too many familiar faces over there.”
Maddon, however, will never forget Gomes's contributions to the '08 Rays. That team had long been doormats to the Yankees and Red Sox, but that changed in that magical Tampa Bay season . . . thanks in no small part to a fight the Rays had with the Yankees in spring training, and another they had with the Red Sox at Fenway in June. Maddon says they helped bring the team together, and Gomes was right in the middle of both.
“He helped changed [the] culture [on the Rays],” Maddon said. “[At] times you have to fight for your turf, [and] the fight with the Yankees during spring training, and the fight with the Red Sox during the season, quite frankly, helped. You're not going to be pushed around anymore. It's the playground thing. I remember as a kid getting into several fights on a playground, and at some point you have to stand your ground. I think that's what happened, eventually."
Farrell says Gomes's contributions to the Sox were easier to quantify.
“On the field he's a fierce competitor, one who has a knack for the key moment, whether it's late in the ballgame or a pivotal time with a rally offensively for us."