When general manager Ben Cherington set out to remake the Red Sox roster and clubhouse this past off season his goal was to add character guys on reasonable contracts.
This philosophy ended up costing the Red Sox the ability to re-sign the very popular Cody Ross, who the team felt was asking for too much money and too many years.
Mind you, Ross was the one bright spot in a bleak 2012 season and he quickly became a fan favorite with the Fenway Faithful.
Cherington decided to replace Ross with journeyman outfielder Jonny Gomes and gave him a two-year, $10 million contract. Many fans (including me) gasped and asked, why give Gomes that kind of money when he was basically a platoon player and Ross was a starter and proven performer in the Boston pressure cooker?
The question was legit but I think we now have the answer as to why Cherington had such a great backup plan when Ross priced himself out of Boston.
Quite simply, Gomes has emerged as the new Kevin Millar of the 2013 Red Sox.
In his first year with the team, there is no question that he has fit right in with the dirt dog persona the Red Sox clubhouse has been trying to get back to and that he is one of the unquestioned leaders of the brigade, along with pseudo-captain Dustin Pedroia and fellow newcomers Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.
We all remember how it was Millar who kept things loose in that 2004 Red Sox clubhouse when they were down 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS and he uttered the famous line “don’t let us win tonight” prior to Game 4. Of course we all know what happened after that.
His ability to keep things loose around the team that season and make big contributions in big spots (the Game 4 walk off Mariano anyone?) were part of the fabric of what made those Red Sox teams so good. The veteran leadership and experience he provided for that Red Sox team was priceless.
Gomes, like Millar, has been a journeyman most of his career. He’s been on four teams prior to Boston and though he is not a flashy player, everywhere he’s been he’s considered a solid citizen and leader. There’s nothing in baseball he has not seen.
And from the way he speaks in interviews it is easy to see that he believes in the closeness of a clubhouse and having his teammate’s backs at all times. He’s also a charter member of the Grind Out At-Bats and Games Club.
Now he’s added key on-field contributions to the mix and he looks like the second coming of Millar, and not just because they both like to get their uniforms dirty.
Gomes leads the team with three pinch hit home runs and he was in the middle of that incredible rally the other night against Seattle by making a circus catch in left field and singling in the tying run off a right hander in the ninth inning, something that is supposedly not his strength. He’s also the first one to run out to home plate and celebrate when a teammate wins a game for the Sox in walkoff fashion.
No one could have foreseen what Gomes has done for the team so far this season. To most he was considered a part-time player never good enough to become a starter. But as this season has worn on, Gomes has slowly gotten more playing time and his play has steadily improved because John Farrell has figured out that Gomes may be the best clutch player on the team. Like Millar, he has that special something that is tough to put your finger on.
The Red Sox clubhouse was a mess after last season and Cherington knew it. Fans scoffed at the idea that you could transform a losing team into a winner by keeping the same core players and only change the dynamic of the attitude in the clubhouse.
Well the experiment has worked and if the Red Sox wind up in the World Series again there will be no doubt Jonny Gomes is a big reason why.