Last option Jeanmar Gomez was best choice to close for Phils
PHILADELPHIA (AP) The bullpen door swings open in center field and Jeanmar Gomez jogs to the mound to protect a lead and secure a win for the Philadelphia Phillies.
''Hallelujah, holy, holy, God Almighty, the great I am!'' softly echoes through the ballpark's sound system.
You can tell Gomez isn't a prototypical closer just from his entrance music – a Christian soft rock song. Then there's his low-90s fastball and calm, gentle demeanor. He's certainly no ''Wild Thing'' or ''Mad Hungarian.''
The 28-year-old Venezuelan right-hander may not fit the closer stereotype, but he's been one of baseball's best relievers and biggest surprises this season.
''We talk about a closer mentality,'' Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. ''He'd be the last guy I'd think would have that kind of mentality. However, he's proven to us that he's got that kind of temperament.''
Gomez entered the weekend tied for second in the majors with 19 saves; he had one in his first six seasons.
''I don't really see the stats. I don't think about that,'' Gomez said. ''I try to be ready for any situation. Before the season, I didn't know what role I would have, but I try to be ready for any role.''
Gomez wasn't Mackanin's first choice to finish games. After Jonathan Papelbon and Ken Giles were traded over the last year, the Phillies held open tryouts for a closer in spring training. The auditions carried into the first week of the regular season.
Andrew Bailey and Edward Mujica didn't make the opening day roster. David Hernandez couldn't hold a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning in the opener at Cincinnati. Dalier Hinojosa blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth the next day.
So when the Phillies had a late lead again, Mackanin gave the ball to Gomez. He saved a 1-0 win at the New York Mets on April 9 and earned three more saves in the next four games.
''He's not a strikeout pitcher, but he's got three pitches,'' Mackanin noted. ''He has a good sinker, a good slider, and he's got a good changeup for lefties.''
Gomez credits his faith for his breakthrough season.
''I'm a quiet guy, but I trust in God and he does the rest,'' Gomez said.
Many closers opt for ear-piercing, crowd-revving, heavy metal or hard rock entrance songs. Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader, used ''Enter Sandman'' by Metallica. Trevor Hoffman, who is No. 2 on the list, entered to AC/DC's ''Hells Bells.''
But Gomez, a devout Christian, prefers a song that has personal meaning. He first heard ''Great I Am'' at a church in Florida in 2013. Now, he enters home games to Julissa's version of the song and sometimes her Spanish edition, ''El Gran Yo Soy.''
''That song for me was powerful because we were going through a tough time and the lyrics were so powerful,'' Gomez said. ''I use it because the power of God was impactful on my life. When you are Christian, you have to be different. Christian music inspires my belief in God.
''My wife tells me a lot of people come up to her during the game and tell her they like the music, it's different. She tells them it's Christian music, talking about the power of God, so a lot of people become interested.''
Gomez began his career as a starter in Cleveland. He posted a 5.18 ERA in 38 starts from 2010-12 for the Indians. Gomez was traded to Pittsburgh in 2013 and pitched mainly out of the bullpen for two seasons.
He joined the Phillies as a free agent in 2015 and became one of the team's most dependable relievers, going 2-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 65 games. He's 2-1 in 28 games this season along with a 2.61 ERA and 19 saves in 20 tries.
''He's been great,'' Mackanin said. ''He's such a likable guy. Everybody loves him. I really pull for him.''
Mackanin turned to Gomez for a tough save against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night. The Phillies led 3-1, but the Cubs had the bases loaded with no outs and the top of the order up in the eighth.
Gomez escaped the jam and went on to get a rare, six-out save.
''You can't ask anybody to do more than that,'' Mackanin said.
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