BOSTON – When Braves left fielder Jonny Gomes ran to his position in the middle of the second inning Monday, the Red Sox showed a highlight reel on the center-field video board that featured fist-pumping, muscle-flexing, helmet-flying moments from Gomes’ stint with the Red Sox, whom he helped win the 2013 World Series.
There was much energy and testosterone evident as Gomes stirred up teammates and fans with one dramatic homer and diving catch after another in that highlight package. So many moments that it was hard to believe he only played for the Red Sox from the start of the 2013 season until last July 31, 2014, when he was shipped to Oakland with Jon Lester in a trade-deadline deal.
Gomes had that effect on Boston and Red Sox Nation, where his hustle and blue-collar attitude were greatly appreciated, along with his overt patriotism and front-and-center role in helping Boston sports teams and citizens come together – Boston Proud -- and get through the trauma many felt from the Boston Marathon finish-line bombing in 2013.
The bearded outfielder became a galvanizing presence with the Red Sox, a team that already had iconic David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, but quickly embraced Gomes’ fiery enthusiasm and indefatigable optimism. Along with his right-handed power and flair for dramatic pinch-hit homers.
Gomes, 34, hasn’t given the Braves much in the way of offense, batting .209 with three homers in 115 plate appearances, with a .615 OPS that would be a career low. But he’s hit .300 (9-for-30) against lefties, had a couple of big pinch-hit homers and made a few diving catches, including a spectacular one in the fourth inning Monday that robbed Pedroia of an extra-base hit and likely prevented a run when Brock Holt followed with a single.
Regardless of the statistics, Braves teammates say he’s made a huge contribution to the team by making them believe they could compete regardless of all the preseason prognostications of doom and gloom from those outside their clubhouse.
“What he brings to the team, you can’t quantify that,” Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “You can’t put it in numbers. You can’t explain what it is.”
But Simmons tried to anyway.
“He brings hustle, No. 1,” Simmons said. “He’s always playing hard, whenever he’s in the lineup. A lot of energy. Leadership and energy, that’s the two biggest things. He’s not the guy who tries to be (a leader), he just is.”
Some who try too hard to be leaders can’t pull it off. It doesn’t come across as sincere. It’s not believable.
Not Gomes. Even players who might have been a bit skeptical about Gomes’ ballyhooed leadership became believers after he joined the team.
“It is believed. It’s what it is,” Simmons said. “You hear stuff about him, you think, ‘Yeah, yeah…’ But he IS that guy.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who batted Gomes in the cleanup spot Tuesday, was asked by a Boston writer on Monday if Gomes brought to the Braves clubhouse what he brought to Boston.
“Same,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. “He’s a team guy, comes in every day with a great mind frame. Everybody that’s around him, he makes them better. Just the way he carries himself. He cares about winning and losing games. He goes about it the right way. It’s been terrific; he really has been terrific. Just a solid person.”
Even when he was racking up 18 homers and 86 RBIs for the 2010 Cincinnati Reds, or 18 homers with an .868 OPS for the 2012 Oakland Athletics, or 13 homers with 52 RBIs as a platoon player and pinch hitter for the 2013 Red Sox, his biggest impact still came in the clubhouse, many of those who played with him have said. Gomes is a big believer in team chemistry, and is revered as a builder of it.
He said the day he arrived at Braves spring training, “I’m here to win, and I’m here to win it all.”
First baseman Freddie Freeman said in the last week of spring training, when a reporter asked him about the team’s chances, that they believed they could win because Gomes had made them believe it. He singlehandedly changed the clubhouse culture, Freeman said.
Gomes got a standing ovation as the highlight reel played Monday night, and he appreciated it.
“I’ve been in a couple of organizations, and I always though that was cool, when an opposing player comes back and you get the standing ovation,” he said. “It’s pretty cool, and obviously these are pretty knowledgeable fans and they appreciate the way you play the game.”
The Gomes highlight reel was a welcome respite for Fenway Park denizens who’ve watched the Red Sox tumble to last place in the American League East, 11 games under .500 before Tuesday and mired in a seven-game losing skid. Some Boston media members asked Gomes before Monday’s game if he had any advice or encouraging words for his former Red Sox teammates and embattled manager John Farrell.
“I guess, maybe unfortunately for them, but I’m not here to give advice, by any means,” Gomes replied. “Lot of good friends in that clubhouse, even on the (coaching) staff. But I wear a different uniform now. I’m here to put two MORE in their loss column. The bond that we build and the ring that we had, that’s 2013. This is 2015.
“Not that I have any answers (to the Red Sox’ current woes) by any means. But when I see them it’s just, ‘How’s the fam?’ This and that. I’m not trying to get David Ortiz’s swing right. Not for these two days.”
The tension level in the Red Sox clubhouse has risen as their slump has deepened, and another writer asked Gomes, only half-seriously, if he had any plans to stop by and chat with his old teammates, maybe help with some quick team-bonding like the old days.
“I’m with another team now, the Braves,” Gomes said. “I bring my tools over to the Braves. There is a tight bond over there (Red Sox). They’re in a tough spot, but at the end of the day, they’re two series away from first (place). I don’t know how much panic’s going on over there. But I know we’re 3 ½ back over here, and I’m excited to be here.”
• Tonight’s matchup: Julio Teheran (4-2, 4.78 ERA) will try to shake his road woes when he faces Red Sox lefty Wade Miley (5-6, 5.07).
Teheran has a National League-worst 6.94 ERA on the road, including an 8.01 ERA in his past six road starts. He won on opening day at Miami, allowing eight hits but only one run in six innings. But since then, on the road? Yikes.
In six road starts since opening day, he’s 0-2 with an 8.01 ERA and .347 opponents’ average, allowing 43 hits, 10 homers and 18 walks with 22 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. His only quality start in those six was his most recent May 31 at San Francisco, where he gave up four hits (two homers) and three runs in six innings, and also issued four walks with only one strikeout.
Not that Teheran has been great at home, either. He’s just not been good so far this year, period. After allowing just one run in each of his first two starts this season, is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his past 11 starts, with 52 strikeouts, 24 walks and 13 homers allowed in 63 1/3 innings.
Fredi Gonzalez praised Teheran for his past two starts, noting that he had pitched much better and more aggressively with his fastball. He had no decisions and a 4.40 ERA in those two starts, but a stingy .180 opponents’ average with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 14 1/3 innings. And he lasted 7 1/3 innings and 7 innings in those games against the Padres and Pirates.
But those two starts were at Turner Field. The Braves need him to go deep into the game tonight at Fenway, allowing them to avoid putting much burden on a leaky bullpen.
Miley is 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA and .353 opponents’ average in his past three starts, allowing 24 hits and four homers in 15 1/3 innings. Against Miley, Chris Johnson is 4-for-11 with a homer, Freddie Freeman 3-for-12 with a homer, Cameron Maybin is 6-for-20, and Juan Uribe is 3-for-19.
The Braves snapped a six-game losing streak against the Red Sox, whom they had not beaten on June 22, 2012, in the opener of a three-game series against them at Fenway Park. The Braves were swept in four games against the Red Sox in 2014, two apiece in Atlanta and Boston.
They also extended Boston’s current losing streak to seven games, during which the Red Sox have posted a 6.53 ERA and scored 28 runs, with 10 of those runs coming in a 13-10 loss to the Blue Jays.
• Let's close with quite possibly the coolest song ever sung about Boston, by punk pioneer Jonathan Richman. Listen to it here.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive past the Stop & Shop
With the radio on
I'm in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it's cold outside
And the highway when it's late at night
Got the radio on
I'm like the roadrunner
I'm in love with modern moonlight
128 when it's dark outside
I'm in love with Massachusetts
I'm in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
It helps me from being lonely late at night
I don't feel so bad now in the car
Don't feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner, that's right
Said welcome to the spirit of 1956
Patient in the bushes next to '57
The highway is your girlfriend as you go by quick
Suburban trees, suburban speed
And it smells like heaven
I say roadrunner once
I'm in love with rock 'n' roll
And I'll be out all night
Roadrunner, that's right
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop & Shop
With the radio on at night
And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock 'n' roll
Modern girls and modern rock 'n' roll
Don't feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
Okay, now you sing, Modern Lovers
I got the AM (Radio on)
Got the car, got the AM (Radio on)
Got the AM sound, got the (Radio on)
Got the rockin' modern neon sound (Radio on)
I got the car from Massachusetts, got the (Radio on)
I got the power of Massachusetts when it's late at night (Radio on)
I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts (Radio on)
I got the, I got the world, I've got the turnpike, got the (Radio on)
I got the, I got the power of the AM, got the (Radio on)
Late at night, lit up white, rock 'n' roll late at night (Radio on)
I've got the factories and neon signs, I got the (Radio on)
Power of modern sounds (Radio on)
All right (Radio on)