WORCESTER — Red Sox teams have won 14 American League pennants through the decades. Each has had some memorable and singular characteristic.
The 2013 AL champions, and eventual world champions, qualify as the most surprising. Those Sox were sandwiched between two dreadful teams. Bobby Valentine’s 2012 club was 69-93. The 2014 team under John Farrell went 71-91.
No Boston champion has had so many unanticipated successes from previously unsung heroes, one of them being outfielder Jonny Gomes.
Gomes hit four pinch home runs and two walk-off homers. He hit a home run in the World Series and did the almost impossible by turning an unassisted double play in left field. Of all the unexpected and unplanned events of 2013, Gomes’ double play was the signature moment of the year.
It happened in the top of the 15th inning on July 31 against the Mariners at Fenway. Seattle had runners at first and second with one out in a 4-4 game. Michael Saunders was at the plate. The runners were off with the pitch. Saunders hit a sinking liner to left that Gomes grabbed at his shoestrings.
Raul Ibanez, the man at second, was almost at third when Gomes made the play. He was headed that way anyway and simply stepped on second and continued on to the Boston dugout. The scoring was marked “7-U” and Gomes had done something that had not been seen at Fenway Park since the days of Tris Speaker.
And, of course, the Red Sox won the game in the bottom of the 15th, 5-4. It was that kind of season.
Gomes was at Polar Park Thursday to meet fans and throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the WooSox doubleheader against Buffalo. They should have had him re-create the double play, but those fans would probably have thought it was fiction.
“The runners were going on the pitch, and I was coming in on the ball,” Gomes recalled, “so I just kept going. It was something I had always wanted to do. I wanted to be in the history books, and that was my chance. It’s something you might never see happen again.”
Gomes batted .247 for the season but it seemed like .447 because his production was so timely. The four pinch home runs were astounding in the era of 13-man pitching staffs. The two-walkoffs were one more than David Ortiz had in 600 regular-season plate appearances.
If he had to choose, those home runs would be Gomes’ favorites.
“The World Series homer is hard to top,” he said, “but having the ability to walk off at Fenway — my first walk-off I think I punted my helmet, and the Fenway punt heard round the world is what I called it. But being able to end a game at home in front of those fans is pretty special.”
While Boston’s last-to-first turnaround was historic, it was not all that surprising to Gomes. It began in spring training.
The Sox lost just one player, Shane Victorino, to the World Baseball Classic. This gave the roster time to get acquainted and build some chemistry.
“I won’t lie,” Gomes said. “It took some time to erase what happened in 2012. But look at that roster. We had a Gold Glove center fielder playing right in Victorino. We had (Jacoby) Ellsbury in center. We had Mike Napoli, just in from back-to-back titles. We had Dustin Pedroia, and that speaks for itself.
“We had Stephen Drew — an unbelievable shortstop — Will Middlebrooks, David Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jon Lester on the hill. If you don’t think that lineup is good, you’re nuts.”
The Boston Marathon bombings were a tragic intangible, too, that seemed to show up in a sense of focus and purpose throughout the season.
There was also Koji Uehara on the mound. Injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey left Boston without a ninth-inning arm. Uehara moved up from the depths of the depth chart to become the best closer in baseball.
“He was kind of a silent assassin,” Gomes said. “ What was unique about him was that he didn’t have that 100 mph fastball or big washout slider, but he had elite command and knew how to move the ball around.
“That was one of the biggest things we had to overcome that season, finding a damn closer, and that’s pretty rare for a contending team.”
Boston finished 5½ games ahead of the Rays to win the AL East. The Sox beat Tampa Bay in four games, then the Tigers in six games, to reach the World Series against the Cardinals. Boston trailed that series, 2 games to 1, with Game 4 in St. Louis. It was tied, 1-1, going into the sixth.
Gomes untied it with a three-run homer, and 4-2 was the final. The Red Sox never trailed again in the series. They won it in six games.
One more thing. Game 4 ended when Uehara picked Cardinals pinch runner Kolten Wong off first with the tying run at the plate. That had never happened before in a World Series and has not happened since.
It was that kind of year for the Red Sox. Gomes was a huge part of it.
—Contact Bill Ballou at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillBallouTG.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Jonny Gomes brings historic Red Sox championship memories to Polar Park
Source: Yahoo Sports