Jonny Gomes is keeping a Red Sox diary. In this installment, Gomes talks about the celebration after winning the AL East, who has an "invisi-ball" pitch and the key to a long postseason run. (--As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
I'll tell you what, if we hadn't made the playoffs, there would have been a lot of upset faces in this clubhouse. It's not about having media outlets pick or not pick you before the season. It definitely starts with the guys wearing the uniform believing, not the guys in the suits and ties or holding the microphones. It's all about the guys in uniform. We set the goal in spring training to win our division, which would allow us to get in the postseason and go on to hopefully win the World Series. So far we've been able to check off one goal.
I felt good about this club from pretty much day one of spring training and I'll tell you why. If you were to walk into a clubhouse and not see anyone's contract or awards, what's the one thing you would look for? Personally, I would look for guys who have playoff experience. With that being said, out of our starting nine, eight have playoff experience. The only person who doesn't is Will Middlebrooks, and he has eight guys to lean on. The playoffs truly are a different game. So If I'm starting a season, I want to start with guys that are pressure-tested, and that's what we have.
I remember having no idea what the postseason was like in 2008 when I was with Tampa Bay and we went all the way to the World Series. I remember at the trade and waiver deadlines all these teams picking up veterans. As players, we were such a young team that we didn't want any veterans. We felt like we had all the pieces right here. After that first pitch in the playoffs in Chicago, I was like, "Whoa, this is a whole different game." The atmosphere and pressure and going from goat to hero really quickly or the other way around, hero to goat, all happens. It's very exciting.
Truly, we have 25 pure baseball junkies on this team, which is such a breath of fresh air and makes things fun for me. I love coming to work every day because I love talking baseball. I love the history of this game. There's so much just on this team, like a 2002 champ in John Lackey. You've got Jake Peavy, who won the pitching Triple Crown and the Cy Young. You've got Nap [Mike Napoli] with Anaheim and Texas playoff experience. Shane Victorino going to the World Series with the Phillies. I could go on and on.
Our manager, John Farrell, deserves a lot of credit. As a position player, we don't have win-loss records on our stats. The way you play the game, the way you hustle, the way you grind resembles your manager. At the end of the day, you do it for your manager. Any job in America, you are busting your butt for your boss, right? He's the captain of this ship and definitely a huge part of it.
We didn't want to celebrate on Thursday when we made the playoffs because it wasn't our goal. We had been working toward winning the AL East. Once we did that, then it was time to celebrate. We had been eyeing that title. We saw it in our future and wanted to wait to go all in for that.
The next goal we have our eyes set on is having the best record in the American League. Playing at home would be a huge benefit to us throughout the playoffs. Then with Dustin Pedroia, Buch [Clay Buchholz], David Ortiz and Peavy helping us win the All-Star Game for the American League, we'll have home field for that if we make it to the World Series. Hopefully we can reward them for their hard work in the All-Star Game.
To have a lot of home games in the playoffs would be great because Fenway is a place we play well at. There are a few reasons why that is. One, the atmosphere that the fans bring here. There's a lot of accountability when you play in Boston. If you don't run hard to first or if you make a mental error, you're not just letting 24 guys on your team down, you're letting down 40,000 sets of eyes here. Two, our fans are very knowledgeable. You don't have to go 4-for-4, but you have to play the game right and respect the game. I was on the other side of the fence at one time. I paid money for tickets. The last thing I wanted to see is some people dogging it. So I think the fans help us pick up our game. Then three, with the unique setting of the Green Monster, that helps us too.
Is winning 100 games important? To tell you the truth, we wanted to win 162. But 100 wins is a pretty special mark these days because I think Major League Baseball as a whole is really strong these days. It's hard to win 100. Not that it hasn't been in the past, but especially in the AL East there aren't any gimmes or teams in a rebuilding phase. There are five horses in this division. I guess to get an extra digit in the win column would be pretty cool.
While I've played for a few teams that are in the wild-card race, I don't care who makes it. I don't have any more energy outside of what I put in this clubhouse to be rooting for any other team. I don't really care at all who else is in the playoffs.
One of the reasons we are in this position to go to the postseason is because we have one heckuva closer in Koji Uehara. What makes him so good is when the ball comes out of his hand, it disappears. That's about the only way I can explain him because I've faced him before and have been in the box against him and you truly can't put your finger on it. TV doesn't do Koji justice. Whether you're watching TV or watching tape on him to scout him, he throws 90 mph and has an 82 mph split; that's it. He's a two-pitch pitcher, not a flame thrower. So you think you have a chance. Then you get up there and as a hitter we call it the "invisi-ball." It's like you swing right through because it's deceptive. He definitely has it figured out.
The only thing Koji's doing differently this year is he's doing this all in the ninth. He has been the best reliever in baseball since 2010. Those are the hardest three outs in the game to get, because the ninth is the only inning that you play for a run. You don't play for a run in the first. You try to tack them on by playing for two, three or four runs, which means you don't have to bunt or hit-and-run like you do in the ninth. With that being said, what he's doing is unbelievable.
He's also a great person with a lot of energy. What I like to see from guys who are good in the game and good at their craft is I really enjoy watching those guys work. Believe it or not, there are some Hall of Famers in this game who didn't work out or watch tape, who just had the best God-given ability and ran it out there. That's awesome and good for them but I like to see guys who really have to work hard for their craft. He's here early and out on the field late. He's got sweat on his forehead all day long from working.
With the regular season winding to an end and the postseason right around the corner, the simple answer to having a long postseason run is to score more points than our opponent. But I'll tell you what, where we are right now, I think we have created an identity with this team and how we play, how we pitch, and how we play defense. Fortunately for us, we don't need to come up with any tricks or have to reinvent the wheel. We just truly have to play the same game that we've been playing.
All right, on to talking about our celebrating being the AL East champs. Fortunately for me, I would never say I'm getting used to it, but I've done this with a couple teams. To do it here in Boston with the history here and the fans is fun, and to be able to prove all the experts wrong that had the Red Sox as the underdog. What we did this year, in turning the whole ship around so fast, really makes this season magical. There were definitely a lot of emotions that went into that celebration versus just winning the AL East.
Champagne is good in a beard. I don't want it out. I'm going to keep it in there for a while. Hopefully I get some more. Maybe it will be good conditioner for it. Champagne is not good for the eyes, which is why I got the ski goggles for everybody. As I mentioned, I've been fortunate enough to do this a few times, so goggles are a good thing to have when you're celebrating.
You may have noticed me wearing an Army helmet during the celebration. A friend gave it to me who wore it overseas. So it's battle-tested. He's in the Army Special Forces. He gave it to me and I was very honored to get it. It was a good little touch because it's time to put the hard hats on and go to work.
We all got T-shirts last night for reaching our goal of winning the AL East that said, "We own the East." We put one on our cigar store Indian that we still have in the clubhouse. [Editor's note: The cigar store Indian was brought in by Jake Peavy while the team was in San Francisco in August and has remained as a good luck charm ever since.] He's been good for us. So we had to dress him up.
I think people remember me doing the helmet punt when I had a walk-off homer this season. So I think everybody needs a little trademark throughout the year, which is why you may have seen me punt some beverages into the stands while we celebrated. Hopefully we can be punting some more things all the way to the end of the World Series.
For me, the moment I will remember most from the celebration is something I find cool and is kind of something I've done everywhere -- that's getting a group photo on the mound. It's some pictures I've kind of collected. To be able to arrange that and do that again with everyone on board to take that snapshot was something I'll remember.
When I look back on my first season in Boston, it's a lot that went on this year. Fort Myers seems like years ago. I think back on the start of the "Boston Strong" slogan and everything that happened on Marathon Monday. I have individual memories throughout this season too. The true brotherhood and friendships that have started with the guys on this team. I wouldn't say my expectations have been exceeded though, because my expectation is to win the World Series. If we didn't go to the playoffs and win the East, I would have been mad. With that being said, I'm happy where we are.