Every winning franchise has an enforcer. That guy who isn’t a marvel at anything other than backing up his teammates and grappling with the opposition. These cats are usually quality locker room influences and well respected fan favorites with zany or quirky riffs in their personalities. When the stakes are high, they also have the ability to stare tragedy in the face and retaliate, because they are innately wired to sacrifice themselves in defense of home turf.
Boston’s Johnny Gomes has always been that kind of gritty, aggressive player that backs his teammates to the fullest. His Game 4, three-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning, broke a 1-1 tie and proved to be the difference in a desperately needed 4-2 Red Sox win. It was a boost Boston almost had to have following the unfavorable Game 3 obstruction call that shoved them one step closer to World Series elimination.
Gomes isn’t a superstar. He’s only hit more than 20 homers three times in 11 years, and he was a miserable 0-9 in this WS before smashing that classic October tide-turner. He’s a lifetime .244 hitter, who began as a promising Tampa Bay Rays prospect in 2003 and has bounced around the league for a decade with the Reds (2009-2011), Nationals (2011) and A’s (2012), before signing with Boston in November of 2013.
Gomes wasn’t even scheduled to start Sunday night’s WS game. When “The Flying Hawaiian” Shane Victorino came down with lower back pains, the ever-ready Gomes was thrust into action 90 minutes before first pitch.
He fell right into place like the good solider he is. St. Louis Cardinals pitchers were being their usual stingy selves through the first six innings of Game 4. Prior to that inning, David “Mr. Fall” Ortiz huddled with his team in the dugout and attempted to inspire an offensive pulse. The Red Sox were staring a 3-1 series deficit in the mug.
“I told the boys this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Big Papi, who continued his October assault with three hits and a walk in the game, said to FOX TV after the game. “We knew we were a better team than what we were showing. Sometimes you get to this point and in the World Series and you try to do too much.”
The general gave the rallying cry and did his part to spark the revival by reaching base ahead of Gomes and after Dustin Pedroia. Gomes responded by refusing to let his team get squashed by St. Louis’ red rush. He would have done whatever it took to win that game. It just so happens, this time his service was a back-breaking three-run shot. The stuff postseason legends are made of.
“I take pride in the batter behind me and in front of me,” Gomes said to FOX’s Erin Andrews. “They basically intentionally walk Big Papi, so I just try to provide as much protection for him as I can.”
That’s Gomes’ M.O. When a Red Sox player says, “somebody call security,” they are probably referring to the 2001, 18th-round draft pick out of California. The tatted up, emotional member of Boston’s bearded-bandits is of Portuguese ancestry. His team- first personality reflects that of his forefathers in the 14th-century Second Battle of Chaul, a battle fought in the Arabian Sea between the Portuguese Empire and a joint fleet of Egyptians and Ottomans.
Gomes is no stranger to surviving tough times and setbacks. His eventful life has been war-scarred. He lived in a homeless shelter for a month as a teenager, lost his best friend in a car accident and then suffered a heart attack on Christmas Eve at the age of 22. Despite his personal setbacks, he’ll still smack fire out of a player who brings any ruckus to “his guys.”
During spring training in 2008, Gomes rushed to the defense of teammate Akinori Iwamura when Iwamura was spiked by Shelley Duncan of the New York Yankees. Gomes charged in from right field like a caffeine freak wearing gasoline draws, and body checked Duncan as he was beginning to stand up. His actions initiated a wild bench clearing melee and cost Gomes a two-game suspension, but earned him mad love in the locker room.
"I was taught in T-ball all the way up, to always protect a teammate's back,” Gomes told MLB.com at the time.” I just acted how I act. I wasn't really trying to get a shot in on him. I probably could have done a lot of things worse."
A couple of months later, Gomes was involved in a bench clearing brawl when Coco Crisp charged the mound after getting beaned. Replays show Gomes throwing bolos at Crisp as he was already being tackled to the ground by several other Rays players. That brawl earned him a five-game suspension
Unfortunately Gomes’ production didn’t match his gung-ho Master P personality. By 2009 he was in Cincinnati struggling to hang on with the Reds. In 2011, he joined the Washington Nationals and in 2012 he enjoyed some success as a veteran leader of a young Oakland A’s squad.
Boston offered him twice the cash to come and provide some affordable clubhouse energy to a 69-win team looking to flip the script this season. It proved to be a perfect fit, and with all due respect to “The Brockton Blockbuster” Rocky Marciano– Boston’s got a new knockout king.