BOSTON — You know the scene from Happy Gilmore when Happy steps into a batting cage and repeatedly takes baseballs off the chest? Jonny Gomes would probably be OK with a similar technique in the batter’s box if it meant a Red Sox win.
Fortunately for Gomes — and the children watching who emulate their favorite big league stars — he didn’t need to use that approach on Friday. Instead, Gomes stepped up as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, worked himself into a favorable count, got a pitch he could hit, and came through with a huge RBI single to propel the Red Sox to a 7-5 win over the Blue Jays.
“I’m a grinder. I’m willing to take one off the neck for the team,” Gomes said. “You definitely gotta be confident [and] I’m sure [Blue Jays reliever Brett Cecil] was confident too. I think I was more confident than him in that at-bat. I just did what I could for our guy to touch the dish.”
Gomes’ self-assessment is spot-on. The term “grinder” really embodies the hustling outfielder, and we’ve seen him demonstrate a willingness to fulfill a number of roles all season. Whether it’s getting the start against a lefty, filling in more consistently in the event of an injury or coming off the bench like he did on Friday, Gomes has been a valuable component — albeit a less glamorous one — of the Red Sox’ success.
Gomes’ big hit on Friday came after Andrew Bailey surrendered a game-tying home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the top of the seventh. The Red Sox loaded the bases with one out in the bottom half of the inning, and manager John Farrell, recognizing that Gomes has had success against Brett Cecil in the past, called upon the veteran slugger to pinch hit for Daniel Nava. Gomes responded by working himself into a hitter-friendly, 3-1 count before yanking a single off third baseman Maicer Izturis’ glove and through the left side.
“The extra early work that he does, the extra BP he takes, the mindset that he gets into knowing two innings ahead of time we gave him a heads up figuring that Cecil would be a guy in that part of the lineup and knowing the success he’s had against him in the past,” Farrell said. “He’s a veteran that’s been in this role for a number of years and physically and mentally he prepares himself to execute and he did.”
Gomes’ pinch-hit heroics have been commonplace this season. He has reached in seven of his 15 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, going 4-for-12 with two home runs, a double and three RBIs. That speaks to the preparation he puts in regardless of what the starting lineup card reads on a given day, and it speaks to the type of player he’s been throughout his career.
“I kind of strive and hope that I can get better every day, every month and every year,” Gomes said. “To tell you the truth, where some of my numbers are succeeding right now I might have been able to call rock bottom early on in my career — like really bad at it. That just comes with wanting and having to stick in the big leagues. Some of the things I’ve failed at are starting to turn around now.”
Gomes had only played in one of Boston’s previous six games before Friday’s win, but he’s now hitting .333 (13-for-39) in his last 11 games. The 32-year-old understands that each successful at-bat increases the likelihood that he’ll receive more opportunities, although for now, he’s just looking to produce in whatever situation he’s placed in.
“I was kinda thinking [about] that at about two o’clock in the afternoon when I got here [to Fenway],” Gomes said of his pinch-hit knock. “A day like today, it’s definitely a team victory. We’ve had plenty of success with guys coming off the bench. We’ve got a deep team, deep bench and we’re all ready.”
Gomes can be described in a number of ways. He’s been a clubhouse leader, and he has provided pop off the bench, better-than-advertised defense and above-average baserunning for a guy of his speed.
For now, let’s stick with the term “grinder.” It encapsulates everything, including his willingness to take a ball off the neck.