BOSTON -- Bill Belichick, who moonlights as a baseball fan, would have appreciated the strategy. Having just watched Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey sacked for a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth, Jonny Gomes elected to punt.
But the kick, a joyous still-in-stride boot of his helmet that cleared the huddle of teammates waiting at home plate, came only after Gomes had launched a walk-off, two-run home run over the Monster in the bottom of the ninth. It gave the Sox a 3-1 win and a doubleheader sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox winning the first game, 5-1, after sitting through a rain delay of 2 hours and 59 minutes.
"That's my best [Adam] Vinatieri impersonation," said Gomes, who tossed in the name of a placekicker but you get the idea. "I don't know if the Patriots are calling tryouts or not, but that's my Fenway punt. That's all I got."
That was more than enough for Bailey, who had taken just two pitches to transform a marvelous Felix Doubront start -- eight scoreless innings, three hits, no walks, 93 pitches -- into a 1-1 tie, Kelly Johnson powering a 1-and-0 fastball over the Sox bullpen to tie the score. The home run, the third in eight days allowed by Bailey and fifth in just 22 1/3 innings, matching his career high, is certain to ignite a debate over whether the Sox have a closer controversy.
But when Daniel Nava, whose second-inning home run had accounted for Boston's first run, drew a walk from Rays reliever Joel Peralta and Gomes hit Peralta's next pitch for his game winner, Bailey's existential crisis was deferred, at least for the moment.
"I thought his punt was awesome," Bailey said. "That put a smile on my face.
"We've got a really good team here, and the sign of a good team is us picking each other up. Jonny, Nava's at-bat obviously got us the win, and ultimately that's what matters. I've got to figure out what I'm going through, but these guys are grinding every day and we'll get through it."
With Doubront cruising and Bailey something less than a sure thing, the question was put to manager John Farrell why he made the call to the pen, especially with Doubront's pitch count so low.
"I thought Felix pitched a heck of a game for us, obviously," Farrell said. "Eight shutout innings, it's the deepest he's gone this year. We felt like he more than did his job tonight. One-run spread on the board, go to Bailey.
"Things didn't work out. Another fastball up and away, much like the pitch to [Baltimore's Matt] Wieters the other day. Jonny Gomes bails us out."
There was reason to believe the Gomes-Peralta matchup favored the bearded one. While playing for the Athletics last season, Gomes hit two game-winning home runs off the Rays reliever. Of his last four at-bats against Peralta, three have ended with Gomes circling the bases.
It was an immensely satisfying way to end a day that came to a halt with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 1, when rains suspended play with the Sox ahead, 4-1, behind Alfredo Aceves, who had kept the Sox in suspense by an arrival delayed, he said, by a traffic jam.
Gomes said he plied himself with lots of coffee during the long interlude.
"I think it's more the ounces than the cups," he said when asked how much he'd consumed. "All those refills.
"A long day at the yard, but two wins kind of sums it all up. Go home, pack, get one more tomorrow and then on the road."
Chances are that Gomes would have been on the bench at the start of the game if the left-handed hitting Mike Carp had been good to go, but while Carp was available for pinch-hitting duties, Farrell said the hamstring tightness that caused him to be lifted from Sunday's game in Baltimore had not subsided sufficiently for him to play in the field.
Gomes has now homered twice against a right-handed starter, and both have come in the last four days. He took Freddy Garcia of the Orioles deep on Saturday.
Gomes said he thought the Rays may have been expecting a bunt, so he figured he might get a strike early in the count. Peralta said he wanted to get ahead with a first-pitch strike. No bunt, just a blast, which slammed off the AAA sign just inside the left-field foul pole.
The home run traveled 337 feet, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the shortest walk-off of the season to date in the majors. Plenty of enough distance for Bailey, whom Gomes said he was happy to take off the hook.
"I got him as a dominant closer, dominant stuff," he said. "That being said, there are two people in this league, one's going to be MVP, the other is going to win the Cy Young. Everyone else is peaks and valleys. If you got 24 guys picking the one up who's down, you're going to be successful."
The Sox have been extraordinarily successful against the Rays this season, winning 9 of 11 meetings against Tampa Bay. The Rays are just 15-20 against AL East teams, with 11 of those losses coming in the ninth or later. Which suggests the Sox aren't the only team having trouble handling last call.
"He's our closer," Farrell said of Bailey, though adding, "We've got some work to do. We've got to get him more consistent, there's no doubt. But he's our closer."
This will be a testing time for Bailey, who in Oakland never experienced an environment in which fans live game to game, and taking the long view is an alien notion.
"They're squaring up baseballs," he said. "I've got to pitch better. That's the bottom line. I've been throwing the ball down the middle.
"I've got to keep grinding through it, focus a little more. I'll get through it. I've pitched in this league a couple years and had success. Every time I go out I have confidence, and the team has confidence in me. I've got to start nailing them down."