I had known Carlos Gomez for about 30 seconds before he got mad at me.
It was spring training 2008, and Gomez had been with the Twins for about two weeks after being the centerpiece of the long-awaited, long-debated Johan Santana trade. As he unpacked in the clubhouse, I introduced myself, welcomed him to Fort Myers, and made the mistake of telling him that Ron Gardenhire said he was one of the fastest players in camp.
“One of?” Gomez went from charming to seething in a flash, his smile suddenly a sneer. “If somebody say they’re faster, have him come here and we race,” he snapped. “We see.”
Gardenhire actually mentioned Denard Span and Jason Pridie, Gomez’s competition in center field, as his possible equals on the basepaths. I chose not to share that with the 22-year-old Gomez, in the interest of keeping the clubhouse peace.
Twenty seconds later, he was grinning again. Gomez is incitable, it quickly became clear, and proud of how he plays the game. But the Astros outfielder loves baseball too much to stay angry.
I thought of that introduction after benches cleared at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday because Gomez, now a nine-year veteran and two-time All-Star, flipped his bat away in anger after hitting a ball to deep — but not deep enough — center field, a flyout on a pitch from former teammate Chris Capuano that Gomez, in a 3-for-21 slump at the time, clearly thought he should have hit farther.
Yankees players and manager Joe Girardi, frustrated that they trailed the Astros 9-0 at the time, jeered him from the dugout. Catcher John Ryan Murphy confronted him as he jogged off the field.
“I just told him, ‘Play the game the right way,’ ” Girardi told reporters afterward. “They’re kicking our rear ends. Show a little professionalism to the pitcher.”
But Girardi misses the point — this IS the right way for Gomez, one of the most buoyant and impassioned players in baseball. He adds emotion to a game that needs more of it, intensity to a sport that can feel too perfunctory.
Girardi and his players mentioned Gomez’s “reputation,” his occasional conflicts with easily offended opponents. But that’s just proof — it’s who Gomez is. It’s no act, it’s certainly not calculated. He was raised to play with ferocity and swagger; it’s part of what makes him great.
“I’m a passion guy,” Gomez said after the incident in New York. “It’s not showing up anybody. It’s a little bit of frustration. Everybody knows, for two weeks, I’ve been having a tough time at the plate.”
Baseball sometimes operates by a “code” that a lot of football coaches would find absurd — if the score gets lopsided, teams are expected to stop trying to score. Don’t bunt, don’t steal, don’t swing for the fences. In certain situations, even hustling too hard can offend some players. “Respect the game” sometimes feels like another way of saying, “I surrender, just don’t make it obvious.”
Into that too-polite environment comes Gomez, who isn’t wired that way. He’s all energy and zeal for the game, excited to be here and eager to prove he’s among the best.
“I find it entertaining,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said Saturday. “He’s just got a different flair — but he usually does it with a smile. I have good memories of working with that kid.”
Gomez doesn’t turn that energy off with a nine-run lead, and he isn’t interested in going through the motions when a game gets lopsided.
And there is no reason to get angry when he displays how important the game is to him. Quite the opposite. As Gomez himself mouthed to his loud critics as he headed back to his dugout Tuesday, looking a little mystified at the reaction: Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.
“I’m not trying to disrespect. I’m trying to play hard,” Gomez said. “If I’m frustrated, you should be happy. You beat me this time.”
Let Gomez be Gomez.
Though Kansas City has run away with the division title, September still promises to be an important month for AL Central teams. A look at a big decision each faces as the season winds down:
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Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles weren’t the answer at third base, but Cleveland hopes it has found a long-term solution in Giovanny Urshela, easily the best fielder the team has had there in years.
But the 23-year-old Colombian needs to prove he will hit enough to hold the position; a .609 OPS in his first two months is worrisome.
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Alex Gordon is about to return from the groin strain that kept him out two months, and getting him ready for the playoffs is priority No. 1 for Kansas City. But so is solving the lineup quandary his return triggers: Where does newly acquired Ben Zobrist play?
He will likely end up at second base, but right field is possible, too.
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With new General Manager Al Avila in charge, virtually every Tigers player is playing for his job, so September will be critical. It’s also a big opportunity for Bruce Rondon to convince Avila that he can finally be the solution to Detroit’s nagging bullpen problem.
He is 2-for-3 in saves since Joaquin Soria was traded, but he has given up runs in three of his past four outings.
• • •
When he was batting .212 on July 1, the notion that Alexei Ramirez would return as White Sox shortstop in 2016 seemed silly. But there are signs that they are considering picking up his $10 million option.
from that low point to Friday he hit .278 with six homers and seven stolen bases. September might determine what they do.
From behind to ahead
They are the most rewarding, heroic occurrences in baseball: hits that turn a deficit into a lead with one swing. Whether it’s a two-run single in the third inning or a bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam, they are surprisingly rare. Brian Dozier leads the Twins this season with three such hits, while Kurt Suzuki has two — both coming in the past two weeks. Here are the Twins’ all-time leaders in once-trailing-now-leading hits:
*-44 of these were home runs