BOSTON -- As Jonny Gomes glided around third base following his pinch-hit, walk-off home run, he left the sellout crowd at Fenway on Wednesday night with one final surprise.
A fake punt.
For the second time this season, Gomes ended a Boston Red Sox victory with a triumphant trip around the basepaths, launching Luke Gregerson’s fifth pitch of the ninth inning into the Monster seats.
Gomes admitted he may have already outdone himself when it comes to celebratory saunters from third to home, having punted his helmet after his first walk-off homer on June 18. On his way home this time, Gomes made like he was going to boot his helmet again but instead tucked it under his arm and bulled his way into the awaiting pig pile, as if he were going for it on fourth-and-1.
“I mean, you've got to keep everyone on their toes, right?” Gomes said to reporters with a grin. “I think I'm all out of tricks now, to tell you the truth. That's about it.”
Such celebrations are becoming a recurring theme for the Red Sox. Wednesday marked the eighth walk-off win for the American League-best Red Sox (52-34). That ties them for the major league lead in walk-offs with San Francisco. And nearly one-third of the Red Sox’s 30 home wins have finished with a raucous rugby scrum -- jumping, screaming about the infield.
“There’s a vibe that’s been going all the way from spring training through now,” said Mike Carp, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored while making the start at first base. “We’ve still got a lot of baseball left, but we’re certainly in a good position.”
Gomes and Carp are cut from a common cloth. Both first-year Boston players who have been a mix of starter, backup and pinch hitter, they’ve helped reestablish a kind of every-man mentality that’s developed around the 2013 club in the first half of the season.
“Our bench is talented, we can plug guys in at any spot,” Carp said.
He added, “It’s fun watching different guys step in and do something big.”
For every walk-off, there’s usually a pitching performance (or two) that sets up the late-inning magic. After a rocky first inning, Jon Lester delivered his first quality start in nearly a month, going seven innings and allowing just three hits over his final six after San Diego’s three-hit outburst in the first resulted in the Padres’ lone run.
The bullpen built the bridge to the ninth with three strikeouts from Junichi Tazawa in the eighth. Koji Uehara, despite surrendering his first walk since June 18 against Tampa Bay, claimed his second win of the season with an effective, but ho-hum ninth.
“You’ve got to be ready, but you don’t want to be tied in the ninth, if you will,” Gomes said. “With that being said, we need just one run in the ninth, that says a lot about our pitching staff. Jon [Lester] did an amazing job tonight, [Tazawa] coming in with a clean inning.
“I just had three swings tonight, those guys did a lot of work.”
The Red Sox could have saved themselves the late struggle. They missed opportunities, going 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine. But if great moments arise from great opportunities, Gomes has been willing and able to deliver.
It was the sixth pinch-hit home run of Gomes’ career -- his third this season. The last Red Sox player to hit three pinch-hit home runs in a season was Bernie Carbo in 1977. We’re not even at the All-Star break and Gomes has Joe Cronin’s team record of five, set in 1943, in sight.
He’s ever-ready, Jonny at the bat.
“He stays prepared,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s got a lot of experience in it and, I guess, a flair for the dramatic.”