Audio report above by WBUR’s Doug Tribou; text report below by The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Jonny Gomes arrived at Busch Stadium expecting to watch Game 4 of the World Series from the Red Sox dugout. Halfway through batting practice, Boston’s plans changed.
“All I fought for in this year of mine is just the opportunity,” Gomes said. “So when my number is called, I’m stepping up. I’m not dodging any situation.”
Shane Victorino couldn’t shake his bad back. With the Red Sox trailing St. Louis by two games to one in the World Series, Gomes was going to start in left field.
“Came out to the dugout, looked up the lineup card, and now you’re going to have to protect David Ortiz,” Gomes would say later. “Good luck with all of that.”
Good luck, indeed.
Gomes hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off reliever Seth Maness in the sixth inning, and the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 4-2 Sunday night to even the Series and ensure it will end back at Boston’s Fenway Park.
“He’s been one of our leaders in the clubhouse,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “His importance to this team goes above and beyond the numbers that he puts up.”
Now 32 and with his fifth major league organization, Gomes has never been an All-Star, never won a Gold Glove. He has a .244 career average in 11 major league seasons but does have some pop – 149 career home runs.
His path to the big leagues was unusual. In an interview published by weei.com in June, Gomes said “I’ve almost died five times” and the recounted the incidents. A candle and lighter set his sleeping bag on fire during his freshman year in high school; a car crash that sent him to a hospital the following year and killed one of his friends; he nearly was shot during a camping trip in his senior year; he had a heart attack on Christmas Eve 2002; and then he encountered with a wolf.
Gomes made his big league debut for Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium the following September and stayed with the franchise until 2008. But he was left off the postseason roster that year. In the World Series for the first time, he entered Sunday in a terrible slump: 5 for 40 (.125) with two RBIs in his postseason career, including 0 for 9 in this Series.
While Victorino’s back started stiffening Saturday, the Flyin’ Hawaiian planned to play.
“When I met with Shane today, he said, `Yeah, put me in there. I’ll find a way to get ready to start the game,”‘ Farrell said. “As we went through the other work, it became obvious he wasn’t capable. And you know what, it turns out that his replacement is the difference in this one tonight with a three-run homer.”
Gomes helped Boston get started in the fifth when he followed David Ortiz’s leadoff double with a 10-pitch walk that wore down starter Lance Lynn, who had faced the minimum 12 batters through the first four innings.
Stephen Drew’s sacrifice fly tied the score 1-all, erasing a deficit created when center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s third-inning error advanced Matt Carpenter into scoring position for Carlos Beltran’s RBI single.
David Ortiz, who is 8 for 11 (.727) in the Series after a three-hit night, was Boston’s leader, smacking his hands together and screaming at teammates to get going when he pulled into second base on his double. Then, after the fifth inning, he huddled the Red Sox for a pep talk in the dugout.
“Let’s loosen up and let’s try to play baseball the way we normally do,” Ortiz remembered telling them. “I know we are a better team than what we had shown. Sometimes you get to this stage and you try to overdo things, and it doesn’t work that way.”
“It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher,” Gomes said, “He got everyone’s attention, and we looked him right in the eyes. That message was pretty powerful.”
Not long after, Gomes’ drive put Boston ahead 4-1.
With adrenaline taking over, Gomes spiked an arm through the air as he rounded first base, yelled and banged his chest with his right fist twice. Teammates tugged on Gomes’ beard for good luck when he got back to the dugout, including a two-handed pull by Mike Napoli.
“I’d probably screw it up or mess it up if I tried to put it in words,” Gomes said. “What’s going on inside here is pretty special, magical. There’s so many people and so many mentors and so many messages and so many helping paths and helping ways for me to get here, that there’s a lot more than what I could bring individually. And then I step into the box in the World Series and I’m all alone. There’s some people out there that need to get praised, and hopefully they take their two cents that they put into my career at some point, and I’m grateful for that.”