For the most part, 2015 was a year Yan Gomes would probably like to put pretty far in the past and have it remembered simply as a fluke. It was a pretty forgettable year for a guy who had burst out onto the scene as one of the game’s better hitting catchers in 2013 and 2014.
However, this past season went off the rails in the first week of the campaign. In Cleveland’s sixth game of the year, against the Detroit Tigers, Gomes sprained his MCL on a play at the plate. He missed the next six weeks and never really got back on track. He was nowhere near the Silver Slugger Award winner he was just the year before. He managed just 12 home runs, 45 RBI and a .231 batting average – all down significantly from 2014.
Despite the frustrating year Gomes had, he did deliver one of the more memorable moments of the 2015 campaign for the Tribe. On Saturday, August 29, the Indians backstop came through with arguably the hit of the season and what was perhaps one of the top ten memorable home runs of the past decade for Cleveland.
That night affair was supposed to be a pitchers’ duel between two of the American League’s top pitchers in Garrett Richards of the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland’s reigning Cy Young at the time, Corey Kluber.
It was a game at Progressive Field that drew more than 20,000 fans. Along with the strong starting pitching matchup and a post-game fireworks show, the other draw for fans that evening was a free jersey given away to the first 10,000 fans in attendance. The player of honor that evening? Well, it was in fact Gomes, who was the name on the back of what is one of the more popular promotional giveaways at Tribe games.
Fans who took home a Gomes jersey were going to remember his name that evening, regardless. Little did they know, they were going to remember his name for so much more.
“I realized there were a bunch of Gomes jerseys out there,” the Tribe catcher said. “I thought maybe everybody was liking me today or what.”
Cleveland, which had spent the first four months of the season in an offensive fog and essentially pronounced out of the playoff race at the trade deadline, had clawed back to respectability and within Wild Card contention with strong August play. A win would be crucial to keep the hot streak rolling.
Gomes played a small part, early, in helping the Indians compete with a very good Angels team. Down 1-0 in the second inning, the evening’s player of honor delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly. It was nothing overly extraordinary, but Gomes had at least delivered a run-producing at bat on his jersey night. For some, that can be memorable enough.
However, Gomes was not done. He was actually far from it.
A back-and-forth game was stale-mated at 3-3 through seven frames. Richards had pitched well, but was pulled from the game before the eighth inning with a high pitch count. He’d allowed three earned runs and struck out nine.
L.A. turned to the usually dependable Joe Smith, known in Cleveland as a former late-inning specialist for the Indians. On this night, he was going to deliver more for his old team than his current one. He never could get into a groove and the game would be change within five batters.
Rookie Francisco Lindor led off the stanza with a base hit, which was followed by another single from Michael Brantley. Carlos Santana knocked a run-scoring double that gave the Tribe a 4-3 lead. Even with a one-run advantage, Tribe fans were still a little on edge. A single tally does not seem enough against a squad with an offense featuring the likes of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been swinging a scorching hot bat in August, was intentionally walked to load the bases, with still nobody out. He was given the free pass so Smith could face the struggling Gomes. Not the feared power hitter he was in 2014, it seemed like the right move. It turned out to be ever so wrong for the Angels.
Gomes drove an offering by Smith 423 feet over the center field wall for a grand slam. It brought the 22,000-plus fans to their feet and to a frenzy. Many of the crowd in attendance were wearing their Gomes jerseys. Gomes found a way to deliver on his night, in spectacular fashion.
“To do it one way or the other, punch out three times or do something big, I’m glad it went my way,” Gomes said after the game. “We got the lead and I’m just trying to do anything to let it play. Get a nice little sac fly and do something to get a run in. I wanted to get on the first pitch I saw.”
The blast gave the Indians an 8-3 lead they never looked back from. It ended Smith’s night and allowed the Indians to creep closer to .500 at 62-66. It was their fourth straight win and seventh in nine games, as Cleveland would try to make a late charge toward a postseason berth.
The 2015 season was a mostly forgettable year for Gomes. The Indians, who ended up a disappointing 81-80 after so many thought more was possible of them, could say the same as a team. Both Gomes and the Tribe have higher things to hope for in 2016. However, for one evening this past summer, Gomes made a moment that will live on for years to come.
He truly had a “grand” evening at Progressive Field.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images