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Richard Justice

Hustlin' Gomes epitomizes Red Sox turnaround

Hustlin' Gomes epitomizes Red Sox turnaround

Hustlin' Gomes epitomizes Red Sox turnaround

BOSTON -- It was still a close game Friday afternoon at Fenway Park when two things happened that say so much about these Boston Red Sox.

One was a fourth-inning hustle play by Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew to beat out an infield single.

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"That's a big play," Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. "People aren't going to be talking about it, but it was huge."

NLDS

Wait, it gets better. As the Rays tried to make the play to get Drew at first base, Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes rounded third base and never broke stride. He came all the way home from second base on the infield hit.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said.

That run put the Red Sox ahead to stay in Game 1 of an American League Division Series they eventually won 12-2 thanks to 7 2/3 solid innings from Jon Lester and a 14-hit offense.

"A little hustle play on second to take the lead," Gomes would say later.

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said it was more than that.

"It was awesome," he said. "I think it got everybody, not only our dugout, but the crowd. It was the turning point in the game. We fed off that. We always feed off him."

From the very beginning of this magical season, these Red Sox, who can take a 2-0 series lead on Saturday (live on TBS at 5:30 p.m. ET), have prided themselves on their hustle and grit and all that other good stuff. When general manager Ben Cherington remade the club last offseason, he went for both talent and attitude.

That is, he wanted veteran guys at a certain point in their careers, veteran guys who cared only about the bottom line. Maybe you've heard the Red Sox did something almost no one thought possible this season, going from last place to first in the American League East, from 69-93 to 97-65.

That little play from Jonny Gomes on Friday, that little play that got the Red Sox just one lousy run on a day when they scored a dozen of them, that little play that got them so fired up in the home dugout, is one of many reasons they're special.

"We generate some runs any way possible," Gomes said. "And that's just not my hustle from second. That hustle is definitely erased if Stephen Drew doesn't hustle to first. So it's double hustle, and we were able to touch the plate and get a run on the board."

Here's where it's easy to connect the dots. On Opening Day, in a victory over the Yankees, Gomes did the exact same thing in the ninth inning.

When Jacoby Ellsbury pushed a ball toward second base, Gomes took off running from second and never broke stride as he headed for home. His aggressiveness seemed to catch the Yankees by surprise, and over the next few months, the Red Sox did the same with pretty much all of baseball.

They didn't win just because Jonny Gomes and a bunch of guys busted their tails. That would be shortchanging their talent. They won because they led the Major Leagues in runs and because their pitching was outstanding.

Thousands of ingredients go into making a championship baseball team, but for these Red Sox, unlike so many other Red Sox teams, the whole almost certainly is greater than the sum of the parts.

Gomes is an interesting cat. He hit just .247 in 2013 and started just 76 games. But he's one of the guys the Red Sox leaned on for leadership, and at key times, his production.

"One, he's a smart baseball player," manager John Farrell said. "With some guys, you can take numbers and put them aside. Jonny is one of those. Today was the reason why Jonny chose to come to Boston. And he demonstrated why this is where he wants to play."

The Red Sox are his fifth organization in an 11-year career. He has never been a star, at least not in the way stars are typically measured. But the respect his teammates have for him is almost unmatched.

He spent six seasons with the Rays, and manager Joe Maddon calls him "one of the guys who helped us become the Rays."

Translation: He contributed to the Rays becoming one of baseball's most successful organizations.

Gomes spent last season in Oakland, and when he left, A's outfielder Seth Smith said, "I never understood what leadership in baseball was until I saw the influence he had on our young guys."

And so, as the Red Sox attempted to turn the page on a terrible 2012 season and to flush out a toxic environment, Gomes was a nice fit.

"And he fits what we do so well," Farrell said. "And the way he goes about the game rubs off on other players in our clubhouse."

Cherington got other guys cut from the same cloth. Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. David Ross and Ryan Dempster.

Not one guy alone could have changed the Red Sox so dramatically, and if the pitching hadn't improved, it wouldn't have mattered.

But anyone who watched Game 1 of this ALDS has a better understanding of these Red Sox, and Gomes is an important part of the mix.

"The way he plays, he makes us go," Pedroia said. "Just his attitude when he walks in the door. You know we mean business. It's pretty special to play with."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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