Jonny Gomes’ three-run homer in Game 4 of the World Series was both the least likely and most predictable moment of the entire Red Sox season. Looking back, I still can’t believe that he did it, but I’m not remotely surprised that he did. It made no sense and complete sense all in one short-armed, choppy swing.
Gomes is an interesting dude. He’s one of the most interesting players to pass through the Boston sports scene in as long as I can remember. And by interesting, I don’t mean weird. Despite the whacky beard, the army helmet, the beer-punting and — actually, OK, Gomes is a little weird. But it’s more than that. He’s not interesting in the way that Alfredo Aceves was or Rasheed Wallace was or Rob Gronkowski is. Those guys were and are so interesting because they’re from another planet. In Gomes’ case, it’s because he’s so down to Earth. But in such an intense, almost crazy way.
Basically, you get the impression that there are very few aspects of Gomes' life that he hasn’t thought over and analyzed completely. That regardless of what he does, he does it with a purpose. And the kicker is that, unlike so many people, non-athletes included, Gomes is able to express that purpose in a way that makes sense. More often than not, in a way that inspires. This might be weird and too personal, but you know what typically goes through my mind when I hear Gomes speak? That he’s a better man than I am. That he’s more evolved than I am. That we could all stand to learn a few things from the way he goes about business. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there are hordes of former and current Gomes’ teammates (and fans) who feel the same.
As a result, when Gomes speaks, you want to listen, because he’ll have something to say. Not the clichés and half-truths that ruin most sports interviews, but honest insight and perspective; information that helps you understand what he’s all about, and in turn, what this team is all about. After all, for every character who’s spent these last six-plus months roaming around the Sox clubhouse, no one embodies the mentality of their run to the World Series like Jonny Gomes.
After last night’s win, one of Gomes’ many interviews took place on the MLB Network, when he stopped by the set to talk with Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds and Al Leiter. The four discussed Gomes’ night, mostly how he wasn’t originally in the lineup and didn’t find out that he’d be starting for an injured Shane Victorino until halfway through batting practice. The guys wondered how that affected Gomes’ preparation and what it was like to have to suddenly flip the switch. Finally, Leiter threw out the possibility that Gomes not being in the original lineup, that he was initially passed over in favor of Daniel Nava, had served as a driving force in his Game 4 heroics.
“Was there a little element of ‘I’ll show you'?” Leiter asked. “I mean, everyone wants to play, everyone wants to start . . .”
Gomes had his answer immediately:
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, if I played like that every single night, it would be tough for me,” he said. “I mean, would I ‘show you’ to Tampa? Would I ‘show you’ to the Cincinnati Reds, to Washington, to the A’s? You know, places where I’ve been really fortunate to play?
“I don’t hold a chip on my shoulder for people saying, ‘He can’t do this’ or, ‘He can’t do that,’ because you know, I’d have a heavy weight on my legs. The only thing I signed up for in this game was the opportunity. Whether that was a uniform, a pinch hit or a start. When my name and number is called. I’ve just got to be ready.”
OK, so that last line was a little cliché, but everything before it was pure Gomes. Here he was, asked for his take on the most popular and played out narrative in all of sports: The “nobody believed in us” angle. It’s a concept that’s driven every championship throughout the history of the world. Even back in the days of gladiators, the trained warriors, equipped with full body armor and an enormous sword, would take down a pack of unarmed slaves and tell the press afterwards: “No one believed in us! This was for the haters!”
More recently, that mentality has been at the root of so many legendary careers. Locally, we saw Paul Pierce fall to the 10th pick in the 1998 Draft and dedicate his life to making those nine teams pay. Fifteen years later, it still bothers him. He still carries the burden of a few long-since fired GMs who didn’t think he was good enough.
We saw Tom Brady fall to the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. We saw him come to New England, track down Robert Kraft, tell him “I’m the best decision this organization ever made,” and then obsess over that promise until it was fulfilled.
Dustin Pedroia plays with a chip on his shoulder that’s twice the size that he is.
It’s reached the point where we just assume that this stuff drives every athlete. It’s the No. 1 reason everyone freaks out over the idea of “bulletin board material.” As if all these guys live a life consumed by the need to prove people wrong.
Gomes’ response: Who wants to live like that?
And anyway, even he did carry that burden and maybe used it to achieve greater heights, he might not have had the opportunity to bounce around to five teams over 11 big league seasons.
At least some of that is a product of Gomes’ reality. While deep down, guys like Pierce, Brady and Pedroia always had the natural ability to be as good as they believed they were, Gomes knows that he’s not Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds. But the ability to understand and embrace that is such a huge part of who he is, and what he’s brought to Boston.
It’s funny, because for all the teams and athletes that subscribe to that “nobody believed in us” theory, there are few that can stake that claim as truthfully as the 2013 Red Sox. Nobody believed in them. Not over the winter. Not through the spring and most of the summer. They’re the definition of a “Nobody believed in us” team.
But you rarely hear them say it.
Of course, it comes up from time to time. The storyline is impossible to ignore. But it hasn’t defined them. They barely seem to care. Nothing that’s said outside of that clubhouse, good or bad, has an affect on who they are or what they believe. I mean, these guys play under some of the most intense, pressure-packed and borderline unhealthy conditions in all of sports. They play for the Boston Red Sox. But from the start, they’ve done it with the carefree attitude of team playing in Kansas City or San Diego.
Over that time, Red Sox fans have been conditioned to expect the unexpected. To just accept that “unexpected” no longer exists, and that there’s no point in doubting what the Sox can do, because they don’t care. It doesn’t register. What comes across as “surprising” or “unlikely” is really just their reality.
So while it’s easy to look back on Gomes three-run homer and just shake your head in disbelief, like “How the hell did that happen?” it’s just as easy to look back and say, “Of course that happened. Of course Jonny Gomes, who to that point was 0-for-the World Series and the source of more 'Why is he in the lineup?!' cries than anyone not named Stephen Drew, found himself batting fifth, protecting David Ortiz after a last minute scratch, and hit a three-run homer to tie the series, and just maybe save the Red Sox season.”
It’s so very crazy, but makes so much sense.
Much like the man himself.
But here’s the big question that most of America has had on its mind from the moment Gomes home run landed. Will it also land him a coveted spot on CSNNE’s World Series MVP Tracker?
Glad you asked. Here’s the updated standings.
I know I said yesterday that I was going to expand the list to 10, but I’m not. First of all, because you don’t care. Second, because at this stage in the game, the field has been narrowed. And here are the five guys leading the charge. (As always, the number in the parenthesis were each player’s odds before Game 1).
1. David Ortiz (8/1): I wrote this earlier, but only one time in baseball history has a player on the losing team won the World Series MVP. But at this point, David Ortiz deserves consideration regardless of which team comes out on top. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player locked in on this kind of stage the way Ortiz is right now. The Cardinals are doing everything in their power to stop him from beating them, but there’s no escape. Obviously, it helps when the guy hitting behind Ortiz is launching three-run homers, but still.
With last night’s 3-3 effort, Ortiz is now batting .727 in the World Series. He has an on-base percentage of .750. He’s only made three outs in four games, and one of those was a should’ve been grand slam.
Combine that with last night’s mid-game speech, which if the Sox win, will become one of the defining images of the season, and Ortiz is leading this race by 30 lengths and its about to hit the homestretch.
2. Yadier Molina (12/1): He was only 1-4 last night, but he’s still hitting .375 for the series, and is the unquestioned leader of the Cardinals cause. If St. Louis does win the title, you know Molina will play a major role, both on offense and with his mere presence behind the plate.
One interesting note from last night is that the Sox finally stole their first base. Maybe breaking that ice is what they need to build confidence and start running a little more. If so, who knows how that might work out? But the return of even the slightest threat of a Red Sox stolen bases could change the dynamic of the series.
3. Matt Holiday (12/1): He and Carlos Beltran could probably share this spot, because it won’t take much for Beltran to capture the attention of voters and become the feel-good MVP story. But right now, Holliday still has the edge. He has twice as many RBI (4) as anyone else on the team. And hitting behind Matt Carpenter and Beltran, you know he’ll have many more opportunities to build on that.
4. Jon Lester (16/1): With a big performance tonight, combined with what he did in Game 1, Lester (as always, if the Sox win) would be as deserving as anyone.
Just kidding. Not as deserving as Ortiz. But MVP or not, we’re looking at the biggest start of Jon Lester’s career tonight. And you’ve got to feel pretty good about his chances.
5. Jonny Gomes (N/A): At the start of the series, Bovada didn’t even have Gomes on their board for potential World Series MVPs. But with one swing last night, Gomes left himself one more wing away from legitimate MVP contention.
I’d say that would be unexpected, if I still understood what that word means.
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