BOSTON -- It doesn’t sound quite right, but it’s accurate: Jonny Gomes on Friday inched closer to putting his name beside Ted Williams in the Red Sox record books.
Gomes’ sixth pinch-hit homer in a Red Sox uniform not only left him one short of Williams’ team record (seven), it also completed a rally and propelled the Sox to a 5-4 victory over the Royals, their fifth win in six games.
“I’ll just go ahead and get it out there: I’m not chasing any of Ted Williams’ records,” Gomes said. “To break it all down, I’m just extremely fortunate, lucky and grateful for the opportunity to wear the same uniform that guy wore. Individual records don’t matter. I’m here trying to collect championships.”
Gomes has won a World Series with the Red Sox, which is something that eluded Williams during his nearly 20 years in Boston. Williams was the greatest hitter of all time. Gomes has a flair for the dramatic, as Red Sox fans have grown to admire the last two seasons.
In the bottom of the sixth inning Friday night, Gomes was told to grab a bat and get ready to pinch-hit against Royals left-handed reliever Scott Downs. With one runner on base and two outs, Gomes crushed a 2-2 offering from Downs and deposited it into the center-field seats to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 advantage.
“That’s the opportunity I have to feast on,” Gomes said. “Knowing they’ve got two lefties in the bullpen, so that at-bat technically started about 2 o’clock for me today. That’s the opportunity when my number is called on I just have to feast on the opportunity.”
It’s the second time this season he’s feasted on that opportunity. On May 25 in Tampa, Gomes produced a pinch-hit home run, but the Red Sox lost to the Rays 8-5. Red Sox teammates and the fans have come to expect this kind of dramatics from Gomes, and he expects it of himself.
“It’s something I have to do,” he said. “You take that away from my tools and what I bring to a club, you might not being seeing much No. 5. It’s one of my tasks, one of my jobs that I have here and I just need to do my best to succeed in that role.”
Despite winning five of their past six games, the Red Sox remain in the basement of the AL East. With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, there’s already been speculation that Gomes could be on the block. It was reported this week that the Royals are one of the teams interested in acquiring his services.
Gomes was not thinking about that as he rounded the bases after his home run.
“Absolutely not, by any means,” he said. “I’ve got over nine years in this game and I’ve dealt with over nine years of trade deadlines, so that’s irrelevant to me, too.”
On the flip side, he was probably making another statement to Red Sox GM Ben Cherington that it would probably be in the best interest of the club to keep Gomes in a Red Sox uniform, especially if Boston can turn things around and make a push in the second half.
Gomes downplayed that notion after Friday’s victory.
“I hope I didn’t shock anyone,” he said. “We’ve seen five of them [pinch-hit homers] here. It’s just nice to know manager John [Farrell] has confidence in me, and there have been flip sides to that, too. [Mike] Carp and [Daniel] Nava have pinch-hit for me and got the job done, too. So, it’s a nice little tool we have on our bench.”
As Gomes’ home-run ball sailed in the center-field seats, he rounded first base and pumped his fist as though he had just accomplished the feat in a playoff game, and not a game against the Royals on July 18. It was a typical Gomes moment.
“Taking the lead right there and just our whole game plan, to tell you the truth. I mean, to get James Shields out of the game in six that’s job well done right there,” Gomes said. “When we get our bullpen a lead good things have happened. On top of that, knowing [Clay Buchholz] battled today and did a great job and for him to leave the dugout with a win on his back was good. Of course, this is Game 1 of the second half and just get this thing going north as fast as possible.”
At the end of the sixth inning, Buchholz exited the dugout and headed to the clubhouse confident the bullpen would do its job and that’s exactly what happened for the Red Sox. Buchholz worked six innings and allowed four runs on 10 hits with zero walks and three strikeouts, but the timely hitting by Xander Bogaerts (two-run homer), Stephen Drew (ground-rule double) and Gomes’ two-run homer in the sixth allowed Buchholz to earn the win.
After the game, Buchholz was thankful for Gomes’ contributions.
“He's a threat. Just as a pitcher, knowing that when a guy stands in the box, he might be looking to hit a line drive to a gap or just trying to hit a home run. You'll never know, but that's what he brings to this team when he's in there and seeing the ball well and putting up the at-bats that he's been putting up over the course of this season,” Buchholz said. “He's a tough out. If you miss with a pitch, there's a pretty good chance that he'll hit it out."
Time and again, Farrell has trusted Gomes in any situation, regardless of the matchup. It worked during the postseason last fall en route to a World Series championship, and it worked Friday night, even though Gomes was hitting .234 coming into the game and hadn’t homered since May 25.
“First of all, he stays prepared and anticipates the moment,” Farrell said. “I think more than anything his swing is built for Fenway Park. Even though tonight's ball goes out to dead center, we've seen a number of them go out to the pull side. One of the reasons we targeted him prior to last year was the way his swing is built and how it would fit this ballpark. And I think in those situations, he's been able to take advantage of both. But more importantly it's just how he stays prepared prior to the situation.”
In the clubhouse after the game, Gomes stood at his stall as he has many times in the past and was asked about individual accomplishments. Gomes quickly changed the subject and credited his teammates for their defense, timely hitting and timely pitching.
“I’m the guy that stands for team W’s versus individual stuff,” Gomes said. “It was nice all-around, a breath of fresh air from the Sox.”