Gomes: Don't count Sox out
HOUSTON — Sellers? Sellers? You kidding me?
Swap out “playoffs” for “sellers,” and Jim Mora’s voice for Jonny Gomes’, and you get the picture of what the Red Sox’s mindset was even before their 11-0 thrashing of the Astros that sent them off to their All-Star break with a little extra wind puffing at their sails.
They know better than anyone how bad their 43-52 record still looks, and they understand that there are nine teams ahead of them in the AL wild card chase.
But a cool-headed veteran like Gomes has been roaming the clubhouse all season long, and especially the last couple days, taking the team’s pulse, checking its vitals and holding a mirror up to everyone’s noses.
Yep, Gomes said Sunday, we’re not dead yet.
“The season isn’t ending today; it’s starting today,” Gomes confirmed. “Have we dug ourselves into a little bit of a hole? Absolutely, that’s 100 percent accurate, but we haven’t started that impossible mission yet. We’re all right. Just have to play good baseball, and we have to play great baseball. And this team can do that.”
Before you dismiss Gomes’ opinion as just your run-of-the-mill rally cry from someone with 188 at-bats this season, take a moment to see the world through his eyes.
As a role player, he’s been in that Sox dugout far more than he’s been on the field, so he’s had more than enough time to mull over what’s gone wrong, theorize about its root causes and come up with reasons to believe.
The biggest reason is that Highway 1 has re-opened and is no longer snarled with traffic and ridden with potholes.
Highway 1, in Gomes-speak, is the up-the-middle spine of the Red Sox: catcher, shortstop and center fielder.
That spine was brand new the first half of the season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury all gone, and replaced with a new trio of A.J. Pierzynski, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley has stuck and is playing his position at an elite level, plus is starting to look comfortable and confident at the plate. Drew came back and is playing strong defense while waiting for his stroke to re-appear. And in three starts, Christian Vazquez already has left most observers wondering why it took the club so long to ship off Pierzynski for the rookie catcher.
“I don’t know if there are any more positions more important than Highway 1,” Gomes said.
Highway 1 is the “glue” of the Red Sox, said Gomes, and now that a fresh, smooth layer of asphalt has been laid down, the rest of the trip should go much easier.
There are just 67 games left. The Red Sox have to play a lot more great games than simply good ones in order to make up all the ground they have lost. They are the tortoise and there are a bunch of hares ahead. The Red Sox need to find their inner hares very quickly and, as Gomes put it, “do what we can to see the positive narrative — where we are in the standings truly doesn’t matter.”
If it sounds as if some Jedi mind tricks are being played here, that’s OK. At this point, it’s whatever works, and if “90 percent of the game is half mental” as Yogi Berra once put it, then fine.
“We’ve got plenty of time, we just have to play a little bit of catch-up,” Gomes said. “That’s not the gorilla in the room; it’s very obvious where we’re at. Here, there hasn’t been one guy benched for lack of hustle, there hasn’t been one guy benched for being late, there hasn’t been one guy with the famous team rules that he broke or whatever. Every single double play has been tried to be broken up, every single hard 90 has been run hard.
“Maybe some of the mistakes are mental mistakes or young mistakes. If you watch us play, the last thing you’d say is our effort is not there.”
The effort of the first-half 2014 Red Sox has not been questioned, an underappreciated facet of a team with little to celebrate. But in the second half, Gomes believes, that effort is going to produce more wins.
So, he is saying, don’t sell low on the Red Sox quite yet. In fact, don’t even bother to sell at all.
Friday night, the Red Sox take on the Royals at Fenway Park. Gomes expects the team to be in the fast lane at first pitch.