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October 3, 2013

Jonny Baseball

Behind the antics and wild looks is one of the game's most respected players

BOSTON — He is known for his unkempt beard, tattoos and crazy stunts.

He wore an Army helmet to celebrate after the Red Sox clinched the AL East and drop-kicked his helmet before crossing home on his walkoff homer earlier in the summer.

The statistics and the zaniness, though, hardly tell the Jonny Gomes story.

Gomes finished the regular season with a .247 batting average and he spent more innings on the bench than he probably preferred.

Gomes’ 366 plate appearances were 170 fewer than fellow outfielder Daniel Nava had and about half Dustin Pedroia’s American League-leading 724. And his defense is hardly Gold Glove-worthy.

Despite being a platoon player, Gomes receives the highest respect from every Red Sox player and coach. He arguably has the strongest voice in Boston’s clubhouse — a voice most would think only a superstar could possess.

That leadership is a big reason why Boston is making its first playoff appearance since 2009.

“People talk about whether you’d rather have a five-tool player or a chemistry guy,” Gomes said. “I’d take a five-tool player. This game needs good players. When guys talk about how they (Boston’s front office) brought baseball chemistry guys in — Shane Victorino, myself, (Mike) Napoli — look at the numbers. They’re good baseball players.

“It’s not like we’re a bunch of rodeo clowns just having a good time listening to loud music and having fun. These guys are Gold Glove/Silver Slugger/All-Star/world title/world champs. Good players.”

Gomes, who posted a .344 on-base percentage — has never won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger award. He has never been selected to All-Star team either. What he has done, however, is win, win, win, win ... and win some more.

Winning follows the 32-year-old left fielder wherever he goes. Gomes has been on first-place teams in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Oakland and now Boston within the past six years. And there is a reason for that.

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