ST. PETERSBURG — Besides a few more W's and a couple of new faces, there's something different about the Rays as they return to the Trop on Friday night after a nearly two-week trip.
And a lot of it has to do with one of the players who has been providing some of the least production, veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez.
"We kind of just all have some type of swagger going on," infielder Daniel Robertson explained. "In the dugout when the game's going on, we're loud, we're yelling, we're having fun. Everybody is picking each other up, we're kind of messing around.
"Some switch flipped somewhere. I don't know when or where it was, but ever since then it was kind of a "talk smack" mentality. Come show up at the field with that swagger and confidence and that's how we're going to win. That's how we've been winning ballgames. Obviously, it's to the right intent. It's not to downgrade anybody or any team, but we've got to find that extra edge. I think that's what's going on. … And he's a big part of that. He fires us up. He gets us going."
There may not have been an aha moment — though that memorable 28.85- second performance arts display as Gomez rounded the bases celebrating his April 22 walk-off home run certainly sticks out — but more of a slideshow compendium of things he said and done, despite still struggling to get going offensively, to provide leadership in assorted ways.
"He definitely does," manager Kevin Cash said. "He's helped the team in many ways. He's gotten some big hits for us, the consistency is just not there yet. We have all the confidence in the world he's going to get going. Right now, you can tell how he's fighting it, he'll go up there and take strikes and swing at balls. that's pretty telling that a hitter is not seeing the ball that well. …
"His energy level has been outstanding. His positivity has been outstanding. It's so easy to get down on yourself performing maybe the way he has, and he has not."
Gomez, 32, came to the Rays this spring with a reputation for playing animated, aggressively and emotionally, occasionally to the annoyance of opponents. And a predilection to stand up when challenged on it. Just ask the Braves, Pirates, Nationals, Yankees and Astros, all teams he has scuffled with in the last five years.
But also, lesser known publicly, with a rep as a really caring and considerate teammate.
Gomez showed that when he addressed the Rays squad in Boston in the midst of the early eight-game losing streak, reinforcing the need to stay positive and play hard. ("Somebody had to say it," Gomez said.)
How he has tried to compensate for his lack of production by doing a lot of "little" things on the field — stealing bases, bunting for hits, playing good defense, even getting hit by pitches.
And by showing up every day with a positive attitude and a broad smile — energetic, enthusiastic, and encouraging, always among the first to congratulate others.
"The teammate he is when he is struggling says tremendous things about him," Robertson said. "He's still lifting us up. He had those encouraging words. He's getting the juices flowing before the game and getting us fired up. I can't say anything more about a guy like that."
Gomez isn't the only Rays player providing leadership. The other veteran newcomer, Denard Span, also does a lot, with less visibility and certainly at lower volume. Chris Archer looks after the starting pitchers. Mallex Smith is something of the clubhouse DJ.
Gomez said his drive comes from a basic philosophy:
"Every day you have to find something positive to do," he said. "I prepare myself every day to help my team win a game or make my team better.
"Offensively right now I'm not doing like I want to, like me. But there's many ways you can help your team. Give good advice to the young guys. Come here with a good attitude every single day.
"I'm hitting like .180, but I come in here like I'm hitting .350."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com . Follow @TBTimes_Rays.