David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - The best decision for Red Sox manager John Farrell Sunday night was the one he didn't have to make. An hour before Game 4, the bruised and battered Shane Victorino had to be scratched from the lineup, clearing the way for Jonny Gomes to start.
"It became obvious he wasn't capable," Farrell said.
Unlike the handful of questionable moves from Saturday night's crushing Game 3 loss, there would be no second-guessing Farrell on this one. Victorino's sore back gave him no choice.
As for Gomes? Well, all he did was smack the tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth inning in the Red Sox's momentum-shifting 4-2 win at Busch Stadium.
"The one thing I've always wanted out of this game was the opportunity," Gomes said. "So I got the opportunity tonight, and the one thing you can guarantee when I'm in the lineup: I'm going to be swinging."
Gomes, who entered Game 4 as a career .125 hitter in the postseason, had been 0-for-9 in this World Series before taking Cardinals reliever Seth Maness deep into the Red Sox bullpen.
His first time up, Gomes bounced into a double play. But after falling behind 0-and-2 in the fifth, he drew a 10-pitch walk that seemed to drain starter Lance Lynn and set up Stephen Drew's tying sacrifice fly.
As Gomes waited for his turn in the sixth inning, it was Cardinals manager Mike Matheny who had some big decisions. With two outs and two on, Matheny pulled Lynn for Maness, the sinker specialist, and Gomes fought off the first four pitches to a 2-and-2 count.
The fifth one stayed up in the strike zone, and Gomes launched it. He knew it was gone from the moment he made contact, and as the ball carried over the wall, Dustin Pedroia appeared to be doing jumping jacks coming around from second base.
From one night to the next, the emotional swing was off the charts for the Red Sox, and it was appropriate that Gomes -- the bearded ringleader -- provided the desperately needed spark.
"All I fought for all year is just the opportunity," Gomes said. "So when my number is called, I'm stepping up. I'm not dodging any situation."
Had Saturday night's Game 3 loss ended in more routine fashion than the sheer chaos of that once-in-a-lifetime finish -- a walk-off obstruction call -- Farrell would have been barbecued far worse by the media.
Allowing reliever Brandon Workman to bat in the ninth inning only to pull him after getting just one out. Not using Mike Napoli, the Sox's next-best deep threat to David Ortiz, in that spot. Even passing up the chance to intentionally walk Jon Jay and take on the weak-hitting Pete Kozma instead.
Farrell admitted Sunday that he didn't sleep much after the 5-4 loss, probably haunted by those visions deep into the morning. But another game meant another shot at redemption. A clean lineup card, a reshuffled bullpen, a full bench.
Little did Farrell realize that sitting Victorino and using Gomes would end his personal slump. He also got some street cred back by using not one but two starting pitchers to back up the fading Clay Buchholz.
First it was 22/3 innings from Felix Doubront and later a scoreless inning from John Lackey to set up Koji Uehara.
What did Gomes have to offer? Aside from the gnarly beard and his niche as one of the club's more vocal spiritual leaders, he didn't seem like a good bet to shake the Red Sox out of their offensive funk. And another slip-up in Game 4 meant facing elimination the following night at Busch Stadium.
"His importance to the team goes above and beyond the numbers he puts up," Farrell said.
In Game 4, however, the Red Sox needed the numbers. And when Gomes stunned Maness and silenced the Busch crowd, he flipped the script on this World Series . . . without thinking too much about it.
"I'm sure there's all kind of reports on me or whatever," Gomes said. "But if I'm fortunate enough to get a mistake, the bat's going to come through the zone hot. And it worked out."
Almost by accident. Thanks to Victorino's aching back.