CHICAGO — Yan Gomes pumped an arm and let out a scream as he closed in on second base in the second inning Tuesday night. With the way the wind howled inward at Wrigley Field, the Cubs wide receiver was as surprised as anyone that his deep fly found the bleachers.
Off the box, Gomes watched Padres center fielder Trent Grisham slow down his pursuit, but assumed it was a deke.
“I was almost 99 percent sure Trent Grisham was sandbagging me,” Gomes said after the Cubs’ 6-0 win. “I was like, ‘Oh great, I thought I hit good.’ I turned the corner there at first base screaming, because I had no idea it was going to be okay.”
That’s exactly how things have been going lately for Gomes, who is leading a hot streak at the plate and guiding a strong start to the season for the North Siders and their pitching team. Tuesday was just the latest example of Gomes’ impact on the Cubs’ start to the season.
Offensively, Gomes had four hits, including Blake Snell’s two-run homer early and an RBI single in the eighth that sparked a batch of four insurance runs. Behind the plate, the catcher helped Justin Steele and four relievers earn the Cubs’ fifth shutout of the year. Gomes started four of those blankings.
Cubs manager David Ross was asked what value Gomes brings when he plays on both sides of the ball.
“A ton of value. I don’t know if you want a dollar figure. That’s not my business,” Ross said with a laugh. “He’s very important to us behind home plate. He’s very important to us at the clubhouse. When he hits, that’s a huge bonus for us.”
This goes to the heart of Gomes’ mindset as a receiver.
When he was a promising young receiver for Cleveland, Gomes said manager Terry Francona stressed the importance of leading a pitching team. Building a relationship with the arms and focusing on the game and defense came first. Everything Gomes did in the batter’s box was — as Francona said then and Ross repeats now — a bonus.
“Tito taught me that when we were very young,” Gomes said recently. “I was proud of that, if I do something at home plate, great. Obviously it’s going to get noticed, but more importantly, if we celebrate the game with a win, we feel like we’ve all done our job. . “
Gomes built a solid reputation that way in Cleveland, where he served as Corey Kluber’s leading receiver for right-hander Cy Young’s two seasons. That continued during his time with the Nationals, with whom he helped guide a team to a World Series triumph in 2019.
Throughout his career, however, Gomes has always been a threat with the bat. Don’t forget, he’s a receiver who won a Silver Slugger Award for his offensive work in 14. He was an All-Star in 18 and had a long list of clutch moments throughout his dozen of seasons in the Majors.
“There’s a real punch in this bat,” Ross said. “The quality at bat after quality at bat here lately has been really impressive.”
With his 4-for-4 performance against the Padres, the 35-year-old Gomes is now averaging .441/.457/.794 batting in his last eight games. This included a three-hit, two-homer performance with a stolen base in Los Angeles on April 14 that Steele dubbed “The Yan Gomes Game.”
Gomes arrived at Friendly Confines on Tuesday hitting .255 with .754 OPS on the season, and returned home batting .309 with .898 OPS on the young campaign. And when he wasn’t collecting hits, he was helping Steele go 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA.
For his career, Steele now has a 1.40 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 15 walks in 58 innings when working under Gomes. That includes the 5 1/3 shutouts he turned against a strong Padres nine in Tuesday’s win.
“Yan is awesome,” Steele said. “He’s really, in different situations, helped me on a number of occasions. It’s great to have him behind the plate, because you know – him and Tucker (Barnhart) both – they both work, more work than I am, on opposing lineups and all that.
“It’s a really good feeling to be on the hump and to know that.”
And that goes to the heart of Gomes’ priorities as the Cubs’ catcher.
“I never try to expect too much,” the catcher said of his offensive production in his second year with Chicago. “If anything, it would be (that) I’m more comfortable with our pitching team, getting to know the guys a little bit more. I’m a lot more proud of that than on the batting side.”