PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kaduk, who writes the popular “Big League Stew” blog for Yahoo! Sports, immediately called it “the day the Rays finally became a real MLB franchise." Naturally, Jonny Gomes was in the middle of it.
It was spring training 2008, and a 6-foot-5, 225-pound Yankee first baseman named Shelley Duncan slid into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura with spikes raised belt high, slashing Iwamura. Duncan was immediately ejected, but that did not placate Gomes, who charged in from right field and flattened Duncan with a flying tackle.
Duncan was suspended for three games. Gomes was suspended two, but the Rays were pushovers no more. Losers of 96 games in 2007, the Rays won 97 in 2008 and went to the World Series.
Did Gomes set the tone with his actions? Some people, including his Rays teammates, pointed to that day.
“I don’t know," he said Monday. “Not what I was trying to do by any means, trying to set a tone. Wasn’t trying to build any chemistry, or all the stuff that came out of it. I mean, you really can’t be thinking about that while it’s happening."
“Yeah, he drew blood right here," Gomes said, pointing to a hip-high spot. “He went out, ejected."
In an interesting twist, Duncan is now with the Rays, trying to make the club as a nonroster player.
Strange for Gomes to see him in a Rays uniform?
“No," he said. “It’s not strange to see anyone in any uniform. Guys are bouncing around everywhere."
Gomes is now on his fifth team, fourth in the last three seasons: Rays, Reds, Nationals, Athletics, Red Sox.
He said he has spoken with Duncan, and everything is cool. Just as it is with Coco Crisp, the former Sox outfielder with whom he traded punches in a Fenway Park brawl, also in 2008.
“Coco and I worked out together that offseason," said Gomes, who played with Crisp last season in Oakland. “Nothing personal. Just business. Men being men."