Jonny Gomes was in the middle of taking batting practice when Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell gave him the news.
Shane Victorino was out of the lineup because of lower back tightness. Gomes was in, batting fifth and playing left field. First pitch was only about 90 minutes away, but Gomes was completely unfazed. His demeanor never changed.
He popped back into the cage, took some more swings, then popped back out. I was in the middle of a conversation with him at the time, and he pointedly reminded me that the Red Sox were 7-1 when he was in the starting lineup this postseason.
Make that 8-1.
Gomes’ three-run homer in the sixth inning Sunday night lifted the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, tying the World Series at two games each, ensuring that the best-of-7 series will return to Boston’s Fenway Park.
Of all the Red Sox’s team-first victories this season — and so many have fit that description — Game 4 might have been the topper, coming as it did after the Obstruction Destruction of Game 3.
The Sox got four innings and zero earned runs from fading right-hander Clay Buchholz. They got a strong 2 2/3 innings from left-hander Felix Doubront, who was making back-to-back relief appearances for the first time since Sept. 19-20, 2011. They got a scoreless eighth from righty John Lackey, who was making his first relief appearance since June 27, 2004. And they got the first game-ending pickoff in Series history by closer Koji Uehara, who nailed rookie Kolten Wong at first base.
Oh, and lest anyone forget, David Ortiz went 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored, raising his batting average for the Series to .727, with eight hits in 11 at-bats.
Ortiz, perceiving his teammates to be somewhat tight, even rallied them in the dugout, Hunter Pence style, before the sixth inning, essentially telling them, “This is the World Series. And it might be the only chance you get.”
Playing first base seems to agree with Ortiz, though second baseman Dustin Pedroia begged to differ in a postgame interview I did with him for FOX Sports Live. Pedroia joked that he is growing exhausted catching every pop-up to the right side while Ortiz serves as the Red Sox’s new pitching coach, making repeated visits to the mound to exhort the team’s pitchers — six of ’em during Game 4.
The Red Sox’s victory sets up a classic Game 5 matchup between the teams’ respective aces, Boston lefty Jon Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright. Lackey, after firing 17 pitches on his normal day to throw between starts, remains on target to start Game 6 against Cardinals righty Michael Wacha. Game 7, if necessary, would pit Red Sox righty Jake Peavy against Cardinals righty Joe Kelly.
The Sox, though, probably would take the same all-hands-on-deck approach that they did behind Buchholz on Sunday night.
Buchholz, who missed three months because of shoulder trouble before returning on Sept. 10, said he made a conscious effort not to overthrow, and failed to crack 90 mph on any of his pitches. But he succeeded in keeping the ball down, and said after warming up in the bullpen he stopped fearing that his arm would be a problem.
“So much attention has been brought to, can he make it? What’s he going to give you?” Farrell said. “A lot of scrutiny around his situation, but given that he might not have had his midseason stuff, if the ball doesn’t bounce up off of some clump of grass in the outfield (causing an error by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury), (Carlos) Beltran might ground into a double play, and (Buchholz) may not have given up a run through four innings.”
Doubront was perfect the next two, then was charged with a run after a two-out double by pinch-hitter Shane Robinson and single by Matt Carpenter off left-hander Craig Breslow. Righty Junichi Tazawa ended the threat by retiring Matt Holliday, who had touched him for a two-run double in Game 3. And then came Lackey, who showed again why he is a model teammate.
Before the game, Lackey said he was fired up by the possibility of coming out of the bullpen. Catcher David Ross noted that Lackey pitches with almost a reliever’s mentality, anyway. And afterward, Lackey was still energized, saying, “I was just excited to help out. Whenever you can get in there, get in a fight with the boys, it’s always fun.”
Gomes takes the same approach; really, all of the Red Sox do. It’s worth recalling that the Sox signed Gomes to a two-year, $10 million free-agent contract last offseason because of his success against left-handers. But Gomes also hit right-handers well during the regular season, and his home run Sunday came off righty Seth Maness — after Gomes was 0 for 9 to start the Series.
“When my number is called, I’m stepping up. I’m not dodging any situation,” Gomes said.