BOSTON — Jonny Gomes isn't an everyday player for the Red Sox.
The former Ray has never been an All-Star, is a career .244 hitter and is typically part of a platoon.
But in a championship-caliber clubhouse that includes David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, it was Gomes' locker that was the first to be surrounded by cameras Thursday afternoon, the eve of the American League Division Series opener with the Rays.
You see, the back of Gomes' baseball card has never truly reflected his intangible impact. It's no coincidence that Gomes, 32, is in the playoffs for the fourth time with his fourth team in a six-season span, including the Rays' 2008 World Series run. And when it came to the Red Sox's turnaround from worst to first this year, sparked by a culture change, they say it was the bushy-bearded, bald-headed Gomes in the middle of it all.
"On the field, he's a fierce competitor, one who has a knack for the key moment, whether it's late in the ballgame or a pivotal time with a rally offensively for us," manager John Farrell said. "As far as what he's added to our clubhouse, it's been a grit, it's been a smart player, and one that I think a lot of other guys draw a lot of confidence from him because the way he plays the game, the way he talks about it. And seemingly he's in the center of things that we've done off the field, whether it's in response to the (Boston) Marathon tragedy here or things that our group does off the field — whether it's a high number of players going to a team dinner. Johnny is right in the middle of the party."
Gomes, who is expected to be in the lineup for Games 1 and 2, was signed to a two-year, $10 million contract in the offseason to provide not only right-handed pop but clubhouse character. His magnetic and fearless personality has endeared him to teammates, as in 2008 with the Rays, when his central roles in "skirmishes" with the Yankees and Red Sox set a tone. "Guys like Jonny Gomes did help turn the Devil Rays into the Rays," manager Joe Maddon said.
Gomes came to spring training with a beard befitting the Civil War days, and most of his Red Sox teammates have followed suit, growing facial hair and wearing "Fear the Beard" T-shirts. After the Boston Marathon bombings in April, it was Gomes' idea to place a "Boston Strong" jersey in the dugout, bringing it wherever they went. As the city rallied around the Sox, Gomes graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a photo of him flexing his biceps as he reached second base in what he called a "symbolic tribute" to the area's resilience. The headline read: "Triumph after Tragedy."
Gomes, who hit .247 in 116 games this season with 13 homers and 52 RBIs, has had onfield triumphs, with four pinch-hit home runs, one against the Rays.
"I would say my stats aren't even remotely close to the thumbprint I put on a team and put on a season," Gomes said. "Obviously it's a result-driven industry, but I do a lot more inside the locker room, do a lot more with the young guys. I put some runs on the board and take some runs off the board, and I wasn't even in the lineup. Individually is not really what I bank on. I bank on the push for the ring."