Going, going, Yan! Gomes slugs Cubs over Padres

Backstop picks up four hits, slugs HR in big win over Padres

April 26th, 2023

CHICAGO -- pumped an arm and let out a yell as he closed in on second base in the second inning on Tuesday night. With the way the wind was howling inwards at Wrigley Field, the Cubs catcher was as surprised as anyone that his deep fly had found the bleachers.

Out of the box, Gomes watched Padres center fielder Trent Grisham slowing his pursuit, but assumed it was a deke.

"I was almost 99 percent sure that Trent Grisham was sandbagging me," Gomes said after the Cubs' 6-0 victory. "I was like, 'Oh great, I thought I hit that well.' I turned the corner there at first base screaming, because I had no idea it was going to go."

That is just how things have been going of late for Gomes, who is riding a hot streak at the plate and guiding a strong start to the season for the North Siders and their pitching staff. Tuesday was just the latest example of Gomes' impact on the early part of this Cubs’ season.

Offensively, Gomes churned out four hits, including the two-run homer off Blake Snell early and an RBI single in the eighth that sparked a batch of four insurance runs. Behind the plate, the catcher helped and four relievers to the Cubs' fifth shutout win of the year. Gomes has started four of those blankings.

Cubs manager David Ross was asked how much value Gomes brings when he is performing on both sides of the ball.

"A ton of value. I don't know if you want a dollar figure. That's not my area," Ross said to laughter. "He's very important to us behind the plate. He's very important to us in the clubhouse. When he hits, it's a huge bonus for us."

That gets to the heart of Gomes' own mindset as a catcher.

When he was a young, up-and-coming catcher with Cleveland, Gomes said manager Terry Francona stressed the importance of leading a pitching staff. Building rapport with the arms and focusing on game-calling and defense came first. Anything Gomes did in the batter's box was -- as Francona said then and Ross repeats now -- a bonus.

"Tito taught me that when we were very young," Gomes said recently. "I was taking pride in that, if I do something at the plate, great. Obviously, it's going to get pointed out, but mainly, if we're celebrating the game with a win, we feel like we all did our jobs."

Gomes built a strong reputation in that way in Cleveland, where he was Corey Kluber's primary catcher during the righty's two Cy Young seasons. That continued in his time with the Nationals, with whom he helped guide a staff to a World Series triumph in the 2019.

Throughout his career, though, Gomes has still been a threat with the bat. Don't forget, this is a catcher who won a Silver Slugger Award for his offensive work back in '14. He was an All-Star in '18 and has had a long list of clutch moments throughout his dozen seasons in the Majors.

"There's real thump in that bat," Ross said. "The quality at-bat after quality at-bat here lately has been really impressive."

With his 4-for-4 showing against the Padres, the 35-year-old Gomes is now batting .441/.457/.794 over his last eight games. That included a three-hit, two-homer performance with a stolen base in L.A. on April 14 that Steele dubbed, "The Yan Gomes Game."

Gomes arrived to the Friendly Confines on Tuesday hitting .255 with a .754 OPS on the season, and went home batting .309 with an .898 OPS on the young campaign. And when he was not collecting a hit, he was helping Steele improve to 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA.

For his career, Steele now has a 1.40 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 15 walks in 58 innings when working with Gomes. That includes the 5 1/3 shutout frames he spun against a robust Padres nine in Tuesday's victory.

"Yan's awesome," Steele said. "He's really, in different situations, helped me out numerous times. It's awesome having him back there behind the plate, because you know -- him and Tucker [Barnhart] both -- they're both putting in the work, more work than I am, on the opposing lineups and stuff.

"That's a really good feeling being out on the bump and knowing that."

And that gets to the heart of Gomes' priorities as the Cubs' catcher.

"I never try to expect too much," the catcher said of his offensive output in his second year with Chicago. "If anything, it would be [that] I'm more comfortable with our pitching staff, getting to know guys a little bit more. I take way more pride in that than with the hitting side."