BOSTON (CBS) — There are many reasons why this year’s Red Sox team has just three fewer victories after Aug. 1 than last year’s team had all season long, but perhaps the biggest among them was on display in the top of the ninth on Thursday night in one simple burst of effort.
Jonny Gomes, a player who was not on that 2012 team, stood out in left field after pinch hitting in the bottom of the eighth. The Mariners led 7-2 and were threatening to tack on another run, with Michael Saunders on second base with two outs. There were two outs only because Gomes had made a fantastic play earlier in the frame, bare-handing a ball off the wall and firing to third base to gun down lead runner Kendrys Morales. Still, the game was over for nearly all intents and purposes, and a good number of the paying customers at Fenway had long since made their way to their vehicles. Felix Hernandez had silenced Boston’s bats for eight innings, and it was safe to assume the Sox would take the “L.” Life goes on.
Yet for Gomes, the game wasn’t a lost cause. That much was evident when he ran at full speed toward the left field wall in pursuit of an Endy Chavez line drive. He could have simply pulled up, faced the wall, played the ball off the scoreboard and tossed it in to the infield, allowing the eighth Seattle run to score but preserving his own health and safety. There is a game tomorrow, you know.
Instead, Gomes leapt at the warning track, made the catch and went crashing into the standings section of the Green Monster’s scoreboard. The impact sent the tiles — the same tiles that indicate the Red Sox are in first place — flapping up and then back down, as Gomes rolled to the ground, the ball in his glove and the inning over.
“There are two L’s in this game — leather and lumber,” Gomes would say after the game in the Red Sox clubhouse. “You gotta bring ’em both.”
Those scoreboard tiles aren’t soft. They’re made of wood and they’re held to the wall with metal bolts. They’re not something most men would choose to collide with late on a weeknight, but Gomes didn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t know who got hurt. Was it the wall or him?” Shane Victorino said after the game. “I saw some numbers shaking, almost falling off the scoreboard.”
At the time, it was nothing more than a strong effort in a loss. But about a half-hour later, it was the play that allowed for one of the most incredible team rallies ever put on by the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth.
Daniel Nava walked, Ryan Lavarnway singled, Brock Holt doubled and Jacoby Ellsbury walked. Interim Seattle manager Robby Thompson pointed to his wrong arm, meaning the wrong reliever (Oliver Perez) had to enter the game, and he allowed back-to-back RBI singles by Victorino and Dustin Pedroia before striking out David Ortiz. With one out and the tying run on second, Yoervis Medina entered the game to face … Jonny Gomes.
Now maybe that 2-2 pitch on the outside edge could have been called a strike — maybe it really should have been called a strike — but there’s just as good an argument for baseball gods or karma or something of the like working in Gomes’ favor. Home plate umpire David Rackley called it a ball, and the man who had made the rally possible became the man to complete it, drilling the next pitch into center field to drive in the tying run.
Two batters later, thanks to a deep fly ball from Nava, the Red Sox walked off with the victory, one they wouldn’t have been able to imagine if not for Gomes’ simple display of effort in the top of the ninth.
It is perhaps inaccurate to say the Red Sox’ comeback could not have happened without that catch by Gomes. After all, it looked like the Red Sox might have scored 10 runs in the ninth if they had been able to use up all three outs. Nevertheless, the deficit was held to five runs, thanks to one man’s willingness to sacrifice his body in the ninth inning of a blowout loss. That’s exactly how it turned into a walk-off win, and that’s exactly the type of play that the 2013 Red Sox have come to define themselves.