BOSTON — Daniel Nava had never played in a single major league postseason game and was just coming off a career-season, an All-Star-like campaign, at 30 years old.
The left fielder had finished 2013 second on the Sox and fifth in the American League with a .385 on-base percentage. His .831 OPS ranked third among primary AL outfielders.
Despite this, however, he didn’t start the Red Sox’ first two postseason games.
Boston faced two left-handed pitchers (Matt Moore and David Price) in its first two contests of the American League Division Series against Tampa Bay.
Nava, a switch-hitter who is more productive from the left side of the plate, was passed over for left fielder Jonny Gomes, a right-handed batter who mashes left-handed pitching but doesn’t hit as well against righties.
Nava had to have been ticked off, right? Here he was finally getting his shot in the playoffs, and he had to sit on the bench the first two games.
“If you want to go with someone else, that’s fine,” Nava said. “I’m going to be ready to go when you need me and Jonny’s going to be ready to go when you need us. (It’s) the corniest thing we’ve said all year but we just want to win. At some point, personal accolades may mean stuff during the regular season, but then when you get to the postseason, getting that ring is what you’re playing for.
“I know people might think, ‘Ah, yeah, you’re just saying that,’” Nava said. “But the construction of this clubhouse (is about winning). I know I’ve only been in the league for a little bit, but I’ve still paid my dues to get here where I understand the importance of winning. It’s great to have success by yourself. But if you stink as a team, it’s terrible.”
Boston and Detroit play Game 3 of their American League Championship Series today at 4 p.m. The series, which is tied 1-1, shifts to Detroit’s Comerica Park.
Nava and Gomes are Boston’s platoon left fielders and No. 6 hitters. Neither one has complained about playing time in the slightest bit the entire year, although a case could be made that both deserve to be in the starting lineup every single postseason game because of the intangibles they bring.
But isn’t that why you have to love these two guys and the 2013 Boston Red Sox?
“I think if we didn’t care about winning so much and we wanted to be in there more than winning, then it would create some problems,” Nava said. “But since all we want to do is win, we know our roles. Those two dynamics are huge. If we didn’t know our roles and didn’t care about winning, there would be problems.”
Nava has seen 65 pitches in his 11 plate appearances (5.9 pitches per PA) with a .455 on-base percentage this postseason.
“My plan is usually first time through you do want to see what the guy’s throwing and if you can see all his pitches, any hitter is going to tell you that’s a great advantage for the hitter,” Nava said. “But after that I’m not looking to have a four-pitch, five-pitch at-bat every time. But situations may dictate (it). ... But if a guy throws me something in the zone, I’m looking to swing.”
Gomes, meanwhile, provides energy and leadership. He had a big two-run double in Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Tampa to tie the score 2-2. He also scored the winning run in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday after he led off the ninth going into first base head-first on an infield single.
Gomes probably had more reason to complain this season. He was brought to Boston on a two-year deal with the idea he could play every day. But his 366 plate appearances were 170 fewer than Nava, who wasn’t even a lock to make the team entering spring training but played his way into the lineup.
With Detroit having all right-handed starting pitchers, it seems likely Nava will get the starting nod more often this series than Gomes. But their playing time is even so far. Nava started Game 1 and Gomes started Game 2.
“Of course you always look at the matchups,” Nava said. “But there’s been times this year and there were been times against Detroit this year when I didn’t start against a righty. (Manager) John (Farrell) and (bench coach) Torey (Lovullo) let me know why and I’m fine with that.”
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB