- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Like many players before him, he plays with that dirt dog mentality. He plays the game the right way. He's a student of the game and loves to get his uniform dirty, and he enjoys playing with teammates who do the same.
The beard. The tattoos. The relentless hustle. The nonstop energy on and off the field has helped propel the Red Sox the entire season and it was all in effect again as the Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 12-2 in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Friday afternoon at Fenway Park.
Gomes was once again a catalyst. He provided a game-tying, two-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning. He then scored from second on a Stephen Drew infield single to give Boston a 3-2 lead.
When Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell began to reconstruct the club's roster last offseason, the idea was to stock the clubhouse with character players. Gomes epitomizes this team's great chemistry, so it was no surprise he set the tone in Game 1.
"Today was the reason why Jonny Gomes chose to come to Boston," Farrell said. "And he demonstrated why this is where he wants to play. And he fits what we do so well. And the way he goes about the game rubs off on other players in the clubhouse."
Prior to his start in left field on Friday, Gomes had played in only three postseason games during his 11-year career. In fact, he was left off the Rays' playoff roster in 2008. But he's found a home here in Boston. When the Red Sox signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal last winter, former Rays teammate and Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli described Gomes as one of the best clubhouse guys in the big leagues.
The Red Sox agree.
"One, he's a smart baseball player," Farrell said. "In some ways, with some guys you can take numbers and put them aside. Jonny is one of those."
His teammates appreciate his daily effort. He's a resilient player and he never makes excuses for anything.
"He's been great," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "The way he plays the game and what he brings every day makes us go. Just his attitude when he walks in the door, you know he means business. He's pretty special to play with."
Gomes' hustle in the fourth inning was a play of beauty. With two outs, Drew hit a slow grounder between first and second base. Both Drew and Gomes were in an all-out sprint, and after Drew beat the play at first, Gomes crossed the plate with what proved to be the game-winning run.
"It was awesome," Pedroia said. "It got everybody, not only our dugout, but the crowd [going] and it was the turning point of the game. We fed off that and we always feed off him."
Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield had a great view of Gomes' hustle, and after the game he said that even though the team doesn't have great overall speed, the baserunners do a good job of anticipating and reading the play.
Butterfield explained Gomes had a better chance at scoring with two outs from second because Rays pitcher Matt Moore was covering the first-base bag. Gomes was going full throttle and there was no stopping him.
"It becomes a contagious thing," Butterfield said. "It makes it easier to coach third base. It makes it easier to coach first base when you know you're going to get 100 percent effort from guys and that's what Jonny gives us. That's what all the veteran guys do and it is a contagious thing when the younger guys see it and say 'I gotta get on board' and do it also. We do a good job in our minor leagues forcing guys to play the game right with a lot of respect."
Oddly enough, Gomes scored on a similar play in the first game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium. It was at that point Red Sox fans realized the type of electrifying player he is.
When he scored Friday during Game 1, his teammates were abuzz.
"We were talking about that right when I got in the dugout," Gomes said. "With that being said, you don't get 97 wins throughout 162 by waiting for the three-run homer. We generate some runs any way possible. And that's just not my hustle from second. That hustle is definitely erased if Stephen Drew doesn't hustle to first. So it's double hustle and we were able to touch the plate and get a run on the board."
As he sat in the clubhouse after the game, Gomes was sweaty, his uniform filthy. Overall, it was a solid team effort as Boston gained a 1-0 lead in this best-of-five series.
"You've truly got to play like your backs are against the wall every single game," Gomes said. "We talked earlier about momentum in the playoffs and that's what pretty much wins games is momentum. We can't take our foot off the gas pedal."
Gomes never shuts it down. His play sets the tone every time he's in the lineup and that was the case again in Game 1.
"Unbelievable. Unbelievable," said Red Sox DH David Ortiz. "Jonny's been a huge part of this ballclub and he brings a lot to the table."
BOSTON -- Jonny Gomes personifies what it means to play for the Boston Red Sox.Like many players before him, he plays with that dirt dog mentality. He plays the game the right way.