Phillies

Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

The Phillies registered their first series sweep of the second half with three wins over the weekend against the Colorado Rockies.
 
Jeanmar Gomez notched saves in two of the games, continuing his outstanding season as the team’s accidental closer.
 
They weren’t the kind of saves Ken Giles was firing up there a year ago, saves seemingly bathed in gasoline and dripping with swings-and-misses and strikeouts.
 
They were typical Jeanmar Gomez saves. The right-hander bobbed and weaved like a boxer on the ropes and relied on poise, smarts and finesse to close out the two games. Yeah, he came away a little bloodied — especially Sunday when he allowed two runs in a three-run game — but for closers the most important statistic is one that doesn’t appear in the box score: handshakes. Gomez has walked off the mound to handshakes 31 times this season.
 
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin reflected on Gomez's season after the pitcher registered his 30th save Saturday night.
 
“It’s very impressive in the respect that he was the last choice to be our closer,” Mackanin said. “We gave everybody an opportunity. He stayed with it and did a good job. He stays poised on the mound. He’s such a great guy and he’s been extremely valuable for us.
 
“Thirty saves. His son was born. It’s been a good year for him.”
 
On Sunday morning, Gomez sat in front of his locker in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The 28-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, had just emerged from a pregame workout. He wiped sweat from his brow and smiled.
 
Yes, it has been a good year.
 
Gomez and his wife Luisa became new parents on Aug. 4 when son Matthew was born at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
 
Usually reporters ask the questions, but Sunday morning Gomez had a question for a reporter.
 
“Do you know what it means?” he said of his son’s first name.
 
“Matthew,” he continued. “It means gift of God.”
 
The blessing of a son has made what Gomez described as the best year of his career even better. He never expected to be the Phillies' closer this year. He reported to spring training in February believing he’d pitch in a setup role with someone else collecting the saves. But after others got a look in camp and David Hernandez and Dalier Hinojosa struggled way back in that season-opening series in Cincinnati in April, Gomez was next in line. He got the job done. Handshakes followed. He’s been on the job ever since.
 
In a year of blessings, Gomez sees his rise to the role of Phillies closer as another one.
 
“It’s a gift,” he said. “I never thought of closing. I was a starter until two years ago. I like it because you have to stay focused all the time because you can’t make a mistake. I don’t throw 99 (mph) so focus and control are everything.”
 
Despite a strikeout rate under 17 percent (the major-league average is 21 percent) and a swinging-strike percentage of just 6.8 percent (the major-league average is 10 percent), Gomez has blown just three saves. Oh, he can still get a strikeout when needed. Witness his work against National League home run leader Nolan Arenado in the ninth inning Saturday night. Gomez fanned the slugger with two men on base in a three-run game. But Gomez's strength remains his ability to locate his sinker, which has helped him produce a 53 percent ground ball rate.
 
“To me, he’s almost like a strikeout pitcher,” pitching coach Bob McClure said. “With a strikeout pitcher, you’re always thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a strikeout here and be out of trouble.’ With Jeanmar, you’re thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a ground ball, we’ll get a double play and be out of trouble.’ That’s how well he commands his sinker.”
 
Gomez gave up two runs in Sunday’s 7-6 win. But he might have given up none had second baseman Cesar Hernandez made a better feed to shortstop Freddy Galvis with one out in the ninth. Gomez got his ground ball. A better feed might have equaled a game-ending double play and no runs scored.
 
Gomez has another weapon as closer: his composure. The ninth inning can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned baseball man. Sometimes you wonder if Gomez even has a pulse.
 
“He’s very calm,” McClure said. “That helps.”
 
That calm, Gomez said, comes from his faith. He says a prayer before he steps on the mound.
 
“I ask God to take control,” he said. “That enables me to stay calm.”
 
Many closers have big, excitable, fiery personalities — we’ve seen them in Philadelphia with Mitch Williams, Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon — but Gomez is one of the quietest and most unassuming guys in the Phillies' clubhouse. If humility were a fastball, he’d hit triple digits on the radar gun.
 
Again, that goes back to his faith. He reads the Bible daily and from it draws the inspiration to be strong and courageous, just as it says in one of his favorite passages, Joshua 1:9.
 
“When you have Jesus in your heart you have to be humble,” he said. “When he came to Earth he wanted simplicity for us. That enables you to serve others.”
 
Gomez has served the Phillies so well this season that he has put himself in line for a nice payday this winter. He will be arbitration eligible for the second time. He is making $1.4 million this season. It’s reasonable to think that a 30-plus save season could be worth $4 million in 2017, but Gomez is not focused on riches.
 
“We depend on God, not the money,” he said.
 
Gomez was available for a trade in July, but there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. His pitch-to-contact, bob-and-weave style of closing still doesn’t appeal to a lot of teams who view him as more of a setup man. He could once again be available for a trade this winter with the Phillies looking to Hector Neris or Edubray Ramos as closer next season. But Gomez could also be back in his same role with the Phillies next season.
 
The humble pitcher is open to anything. He is here to serve.
 
“If I continue to get the opportunity to close, I’d like it,” he said. “But I’ve earned nothing. I’m happy with whatever opportunity I get.”
 
If Gomez's ascension to closer has been a surprise, then it’s consistent with his whole career. He did not intend on playing professional baseball. Education is very important to him and his family. His mother, Marbella, is a school administrator in Caracas and his wife is a law school graduate. After graduating from high school, Gomez planned to study Biology at the Central University of Venezuela and later attend medical school. In 2005, the Cleveland Indians offered him a minor-league contract and he decided to give it a try. After years of change, from teams to pitching roles, he ranks seventh in the majors in saves this season.
 
Even Gomez's post-baseball career plans have changed. He no longer aspires to attend medical school.
 
“I would like to try to be a pastor and teach everybody about God,” he said.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."