Slugger swats three-run blast moments after honoring late coach, young fan
ST. LOUIS -- Cause and effect may not always be clear, but sometimes the correlation is too strong to shake. There was Jonny Gomes before the sixth inning on Sunday, standing on the sideline holding two signs. One was for Bob Leslie, his high school coach, who died of mouth cancer in 1998. The other was for 5-year-old Brady Wein, a Red Sox fan battling a rare form of leukemia.
Minutes later, there was Gomes launching a three-run homer into the visitors' bullpen, sending the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals in World Series Game 4.
"There were definitely some angels up above looking down on the sixth inning," Gomes said, fighting back emotions after the game.
The circumstances surrounding the homer were so unfathomable as to be scripted. Gomes wasn't even supposed to start the game, but Shane Victorino's stiff back led to the need for a replacement, with manager John Farrell delivering the news halfway through batting practice.
So Gomes temporarily traded his signs for a bat, drawing a key walk in the fifth inning that helped the Sox rally for their first run against starter Lance Lynn. Then, after coming in from left field, he scooped up his two signs and headed toward the foul line.
Gomes' written messages were part of Major League Baseball's Stand Up To Cancer initiative, designed to help fund innovative therapies. Every player from both teams participated. Gomes took it as seriously as anyone.
On one sign, Gomes scrawled the name of Leslie, his coach and mentor at Casa Grande (Calif.) High School. On the other, he wrote the name of Wein, whose cause he adopted two years ago. In the clubhouse, players regularly wear matching red, white and blue basketball shorts as a tribute to the boy, who was diagnosed with leukemia before his first birthday. That's Gomes' influence at work.
Jonny Gomes became the eighth Red Sox player to hit a home run as his first career World Series hit.
So both Leslie and Wein were on Gomes' mind as he rounded the bases in a ball of emotion, raising his right fist over his head and then slamming it toward the ground. Teammates watched the celebration and grinned, knowing -- and they all admit it's a cliché, but true -- how fully Gomes wears his heart on his uniform sleeve.
"He sees things for what they are, and I love that about him," catcher David Ross said. "He's so real to the core that you appreciate that. There's not too many people in this game -- and in this world -- who are just going to shoot you straight from the get-go. You listen to him, because you know it's coming from a place that's caring."
"He's been one of our leaders in the clubhouse," Farrell said. "His importance to this team goes above and beyond the numbers that he puts up."
That's part of why Gomes could barely put his night into words, knowing also how many things came together to make it possible. There was Victorino's injury, for one -- though Gomes was a staple in the lineup during Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park, Farrell flew to St. Louis feeling that the Sox were better served with Daniel Nava patrolling Busch Stadium's more expansive left field. That was the idea, anyway, before Victorino had to be scratched.
But after Lynn put two men on base with two outs in the sixth, Cards manager Mike Matheny decided to replace him with right-handed reliever Seth Maness -- a double-play machine who typically dominates right-handed hitters. Five straight sinkers followed -- four of them down in the zone, one of them up.
"It missed by a lot," Maness admitted of his 2-2 offering. "I looked at the video. It was bad."
The result is now history. Gomes pumped his fist. He extended his arms to either side and twice beat his chest. All the while, Gomes silently thanked those angels for a moment that he will not soon forget.
"I can't really describe it in words, to tell you the truth. I'd probably screw it up," Gomes said. "But with that being said, not only was it emotional on my end -- we've been battle-tested since spring -- I'm just grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute."