In what has been a relatively joyless Braves’ season, the majority of the team’s players have fallen into one of two categories: still green or overripe. The games also generally have fallen into one of two categories: ugly losses and scrappy, oh-they’re-so-close, keep-hope-alive losses.
But when the season ends, the Braves falling over the finish line in one final spasm, at least we can say there was a watchable and enjoyable moment, statistical line notwithstanding. In the ugliest but gutsiest performance of the season, 34-year-old outfielder Jonny Gomes, who had never even thrown off a mound in a little league game, and likely never will again in a major league game, became a Braves reliever for one inning.
Of course he did. Because it’s the Braves and it’s this season and everybody throws an inning of relief.
Gomes is the 30th. As I think Andy Warhol said, “Everybody will be a Braves reliever for 15 minutes.”
Gomes wasn’t great (home run, two doubles, two runs allowed). But he was only the fourth-worst Braves’ pitcher in a 15-4 loss to New York. He also struck out Yankees pitcher Bryan Mitchell to end the ninth and then hopped and skipped to the dugout, as if he had just won a pizza party.
His ERA of 18.00 slides between Donnie Veal (14.54) and John Cornely (36.00) this season, but I think I’d still take him over half the field, if for no other reason than entertainment value and chutzpah.
The T-shirt draped over Gomes’ chair on Saturday said it all: “You don’t always need a plan bro. You just need (expletive). Harden the (expletive) up.”
That has been his playing philosophy for 10 major league seasons. It certainly looked like his pitching philosophy because his plan didn’t extend beyond, “Try to throw it straight.”
“Baseball and life-wise, I really try to avoid things I suck at,” Gomes said.
(I like this guy already.)
“That’s why I don’t golf, that’s why I don’t ice skate, that’s why I don’t pitch, nor do I want to. People have been telling me I can check off something on my bucket list. But it’s not like I’ve wanted to pitch. I got out there and had a ball and it was fun. But I’m the guy who plays the game like his life is on the line, not the guy who doesn’t take the game seriously.”
Gomes’ days as a Brave could be numbered. The waiver trade deadline is Monday, and a team still eligible for the postseason may want Gomes as an extra outfielder or designated hitter. He even could be traded after Monday’s deadline to a team that just wants him around the club for the postseason, even if he can’t play.
He’s hitting only .220. But when a guy has played for 10 seasons, including a World Series team in Boston two years ago, he has value. When a guy is willing to risk public humiliation by pitching an inning of relief, just to spare his team’s overworked and often lampooned bullpen, he clearly has leadership abilities.
Maybe not pitching, but leadership.
Peter Moylan on Gomes’ outing: “You’ve got to have something more than slow and slower But as far as mound presence goes, I thought he nailed it.”
One more crack from Moylan, on Gomes’ flinch when Chris Young greeted him with a home run: “He needs a little work on his reaction. Next time, just put your head down and pray your outfielder has rockets on his feet.”
“I tell these kids, shenanigans never takes the place of performance and how important a victory is on any given night,” said Gomes, signed as a free agent to give the club a veteran presence in the clubhouse. “I tell them, ‘You’re going to be out of the game longer than you’re in it. So when you’re in the game, create some stories.’ Like, ‘I struck this guy out. I struck that guy out. I hit a homer there.’ You have to have memories. Those have to be created.”
Gomes said he hasn’t asked to be traded, nor has that conversation with the Braves’ front office taken place. He confirmed the obvious: That it’s difficult for a veteran with five years of playoff experience to be riding out a season with a losing team. But he’s not complaining.
Referencing the blur of Braves’ moves, he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never been a part of anything like this. But with that said, I think John Hart is nailing it for the moves he had to make and moves he decided to make, and at the end of the day has a plan.”
The plan didn’t include Gomes pitching. But for once, at least something that went wrong was worth watching.