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BOSTON (CBS) – Sports are funny sometimes.
They are funny in the way that you can never know what will come next, and they’re funny in the way they can allow a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be playing to deliver the most important play in the biggest spot on the game’s grandest stage.
And really, unless you’re a fan or a member of the Cardinals, there’s no other way to look at Jonny Gomes’ three-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the World Series than to see it as funny – hilarious even.
Gomes was scheduled to spend the bulk of Sunday night’s game on the bench after having seemingly lost his spot in the lineup to Daniel Nava. A .120 batting average in your last 25 at-bats tends to bring about such consequences.
But Shane Victorino, a man who played through countless injuries for the past six months, suddenly succumbed to new back pain, on this of all nights. Manager John Farrell was forced to remove Victorino from the starting lineup, thrusting Gomes into the lineup, starting in left field and batting behind David Ortiz.
Considering that Ortiz has been a one-man wrecking crew in this series, the Cardinals elected to give the Sox’ DH a free base in the sixth inning in order to take their chances with Gomes. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did exactly what he wanted, giving Ortiz the base and bringing in reliever Seth Maness to face Gomes with two on and two out.
Matheny and the Cardinals probably liked their outlook when Gomes fouled off a pitch to make the count 2-2.
But Maness left a 90 mph pitch over the plate, and Gomes let loose his patented compact home run swing, sending a no-doubter over the left field fence and into the celebratory Boston bullpen.
“The one thing I’ve always wanted out of this game was the opportunity — whether that was a uniform, whether that was a pinch hit, whether that was getting a start,” Gomes said after the game. “I got the opportunity tonight, and one thing you can guarantee is that when I’m in the lineup, I’m going to be swinging. And I was fortunate enough right there to put a good swing on a good pitch.”
The Red Sox would not score again for the rest of the night, but they wouldn’t need to. Clay Buchholz, one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy this year, could only make it through four innings. In relief entered Felix Doubront, who at No. 109 finished the season 108 spots behind Buchholz in ERA ranking among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.
The regular season doesn’t matter come October, though, and it was Doubront who shut down the Cardinals and carried the Red Sox through the middle innings to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen.
It was there that John Lackey made his first relief appearance since 2004, his first in the postseason since his rookie season of 2002. With the break in routine, and with a two-base error by Xander Bogaerts that came with one out, Lackey had excuses at the ready if he failed to come through. Yet he pitched out of the jam, inducing a weak pop-up and a ground ball to shortstop to get out of the inning and leave an all-important potential third run stranded on third base.
Koji Uehara came on for the ninth, and though he allowed a one-out single to Allen Craig, he made up for it by picking off pinch runner Kolten Wong to end the game.
Though it takes nine innings of work to win a tight game, it was the work of Gomes — the man who wasn’t supposed to be playing — that made the victory possible for the Red Sox.
“It’s all I fought for in this career of mine is just the opportunity, so when my number’s called, I’m stepping up. I’m not dodging any situation,” Gomes said. “Obviously it’s a little different pregame when you’re playing or not playing, but I got changed real quick.”
Gomes admitted that even he didn’t give himself too much of a chance to protect Ortiz in the lineup, offering himself a “Good luck with that” upon seeing the lineup card before the game. Yet it was Gomes’ grinding at-bats that led to him seeing 23 pitches in his four plate appearances, and it was his home run that will force the Cardinals to think twice before putting Ortiz on base going forward.
When the world didn’t expect Gomes to play at all, let alone play a major role, he came through with a series-changing home run. That’s just the way sports work sometimes. Even Gomes himself, a 32-year-old veteran of more than a decade in the big leagues, had trouble explaining the events of Sunday night, saying, “I’d probably screw it up or mess things up if I tried to put it into words.”
It’s probably best that none of us even bother trying.
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