ST. LOUIS — He doesn't pass most of the sabermetric tests. He had struggled mightily all postseason. He didn't have a single hit in the World Series.
Whenever John Farrell is asked why, in the face of contrary numbers, he plays Gomes instead of a more efficient hitter like Daniel Nava, the Red Sox manager invariably gives an answer that would make Bill James, king of figures, blush. Gomes has certain intangibles, Farrell says. He is a really smart player. Good things happen when Gomes is in there.
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Well, something extraordinary happened in the sixth inning of Game 4 at Busch Stadium. With one swing that launched a three-run homer in the 4-2 victory over the Cardinals, the man who started the beard craze back in spring training made sure the magical Red Sox season would not end in St. Louis.
Make no mistake, Farrell is an extremely well-prepared and nuanced baseball scientist, yet when it comes to Gomes, it's like he turns into the author of romance novels. Gomes has big-game panache, he reasons, an infectious enthusiasm that you can't convert to any particular baseball metric save team victories. At one point, the Red Sox were 7-0 with him in the postseason lineup.
"His importance to the team goes above and beyond the numbers that he puts up," Farrell said.
Gomes had hit into a second-inning double play that left him 5-for-35 in the postseason, including 0-for-9 in the World Series. He had only seven total bases. Even his on-base percentage had tucked under .200. Yet in the fifth inning he turned a 1-2 count into a 10-pitch walk that helped prolong an inning that had David Ortiz huffing and puffing home on a sacrifice fly by Stephen Drew.
Before the start of the sixth, Ortiz gathered his teammates in the dugout.
"He rallied us together," Gomes said. "It summed up the teammate he is, the superstar he is, the passion he has for the game. Anytime he steps in the box, there's a presence. Anytime he put his uniform on, there's a presence.
"It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at the teacher. He got everybody's attention. The message was pretty powerful. Whatever comes out his mouth is priceless. It gave us the little kick in the butt we needed."
In the top of the sixth, the entire stadium, including the players, also stood up for the fight against cancer. Gomes held up two signs himself.
"I think there were some angels looking down on me and everyone else," Gomes said.
One sign was for his high school coach who passed away from the disease. The other was for Brady Wein, a 5-year-old battling a blood-cell based cancer who has become a special friend of Gomes and some of the Red Sox.
"It really adds to the fairy tale," Gomes said.
So here was Gomes walking to the plate with two out in the top of the sixth. Dustin Pedroia, who had struck out in his first two at-bats against St. Louis starter Lance Lynn, lined a one-out single to left. Ortiz, who is hitting a mind-blowing .727 in the World Series and was a burning, churning madman on the bases in Game 4, walked on four pitches. At this point, the Cardinals pitchers don't want any piece of Big Papi, who has eight of the 24 Red Sox hits in the series and seems to be on a one-man mission to get into the Hall of Fame. He'd have nine hits if Carlos Beltran hadn't robbed him of a grand slam in Game 1.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny decided not to take Lynn out to use Randy Choate against Ortiz, but after 5 2/3 innings and 89 pitches, in came sinkerballer Seth Maness to pitch to Gomes.
"Seth has been a guy who has been able to help us out and do an incredible job in that situation all season long," Matheny said. "He has been able to get the big out when we needed it. It just didn't work tonight. We will use him again."
Said Gomes, "I'm a right-handed hard-swinging guy; I don't think there are too many matchups to stay away from. I'm sure there are all sorts of reports on me. But if I'm fortunate enough to get a mistake, the bat is going to come through the zone hot."
Ball. Called strike. Ball. Foul. In came Maness' fifth pitch to Gomes, a 2-2 sinker that didn't sink, and Gomes drove the ball 387 feet over the left-field fence.
It was a stunning blow to the Cardinals. It was stunning blow for the Red Sox, who appeared to be getting almost no offense beyond Ortiz. It was the stunning blow that tied this World Series at two games apiece. Regardless of what happens when Jon Lester goes against Adam Wainwright in Game 5, the Red Sox will have two chances at Fenway to get the job done for their third world title in a decade.
Gomes' home run was nothing short of series-altering. As he rounded first, Gomes raised his right arm, ripped it down and then did a sort of cross-armed fist pump into his chest. He was jacked up.
"I'm not that good to plan out my home runs in the World Series," Gomes said. "The one thing I always wanted in this game was an opportunity. I got it tonight, and the one thing you can guarantee when I'm in the lineup is I'm going to be swinging."
Gomes found out he'd be playing halfway through batting practice.
"When my number's called, I'm stepping up," Gomes said. "I'm not dodging any situation. I saw the lineup card [where he was hitting fifth], I have to protect David Ortiz and good luck with that."
Earlier in the season, Farrell talked about people seeing that Gomes can be light-hearted, a little crazy, definitely wired and draw some bad conclusions. Some people might judge the book by the cover, he said, and it's not an accurate one. Farrell thinks so much of the talk about Gomes' intangibles takes away from what a good ballplayer he is.
"He's a smart player," Farrell said. "He has a feel for the history of the game to those that are currently in it to every situation that comes up."
Farrell loves to talk about how the team feeds off of Gomes' energy.
"I'll screw it up if I try to put it into words, but what's going on inside me is pretty special and magical," Gomes said. "So many people have helped me to get here, and I'm so grateful. And then you step into the box in the World Series and you're all alone."
When he reached the dugout in the sixth inning, he wasn't alone. He had all of New England with him.