BOSTON – When the Boston Red Sox clinched the American League East championship, the champagne came out.

And the Army helmet?

There was Jonny Gomes amid the revelers, helmet on head, punting beer cans.

Just Jonny being goofy.

But when the Boston Red Sox signed Gomes last Dec. 1 to a two-year, $10 million contract, they planned on getting more than the class clown.

And Gomes has delivered.

His numbers may not impress, not with a .247 batting average, but Gomes, 32, is among the new players credited with helping turn this Boston team around.

“There’s a lot more value than what the numbers speak,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “Inside the clubhouse he has as much impact as anyone on our team as far as being a team leader.

“I don’t want to make that sound hokey because it has a lot of value. He is a major contributor to the character of this team, the personality of this team, and not just because he wears a helmet during a celebration.”

A leader does more than give rah-rah speeches (come to think of it, I don’t recall any players going rah-rah on their teammates). He simply leads.

Hours before a recent game, when first-base coach Arnie Beyeler was about to put a group of young players through outfield drills, Gomes stopped Beyeler.

Gomes noticed there were no veterans in the group to help mentor the less experienced players. He grabbed a glove and joined in.

“These guys are great,” Beyeler said of Gomes and other veterans who have seemingly willed this team back to being a winner.

Gomes, like others, is a quasi-coach at Fenway.

“It’s not a role you’re given, it’s a role you earn,” Gomes said. “I’m not any different player today than I was a couple of years ago. But I have some more knowledge.

“I didn’t just play here (in Boston). I’ve played for five teams, made the playoffs in both leagues. Played for some Hall of Fame managers.”

Gomes played for Joe Maddon at Tampa Bay, Dusty Baker in Cincinnati, Davey Johnson in Washington and Bob Melvin in Oakland.

Gomes apparently is a good student.

“He’s a smart player,” Farrell said. “He’s one of the main guys in the baseball conversation, whether it’s in the clubhouse or during the game.

“In his own way I’m sure he’s managing the game in his head.”

Farrell sees that especially when Gomes is not starting.

“Up to the innings where he thinks he will be used, he’s preparing, he’s taking his swings in the cage. He’s right in lock-step and is prepared.”

As a pinch hitter Gomes is clutch, hitting .286 with four home runs. But there’s more to his game.

“He’s a darned good player. There’s a power threat (13 home runs) every time he steps in the box,” Farrell said. “He’s been a much better fielder than I anticipated. He’s played the ball here in Fenway Park exceptional.”

Maybe Gomes handles the pressure of baseball so well because compared to what he’s faced in real life, baseball is indeed just a game.

He grew up Petaluma, Calif., 40 miles north of San Francisco, with a single mother and older brother. The Gomes’ were poor. They learned to get by, overcoming evictions or food shortages.

Then there were the brushes with death.

Joyriding with friends when he was 16, Gomes and his friend Adam Westcott sat in the backseat. Both wanted to sit behind the passenger seat. Westcott won a coin flip and got the seat. The car crashed and Westcott was killed.

Later, at 22, Gomes was taken to a hospital, feeling light-headed. There he suffered a heart attack.

Doctors told him if he had gone to bed instead of the hospital, he would not have awakened.

“Just a couple of them,” Gomes quipped about his experiences with death. But he also turned serious.

“It changed my whole life. 100 percent. Everything. Don’t take anything for granted.”

So when Gomes does anything, like baseball for instance, he goes all out.

He is a man of many tattoos, one memorializing Westcott and another commemorating his survival from the heart attack.

Gomes pushed up a sleeve on his right arm to reveal the names Zoe, Colt and Capri — his three children with his wife, Kristi.

How does the 100 percent ballplayer view fatherhood?

“I’m a great dad,” Gomes said. “I’d do anything for those kids.”

He said it and you believe him.

Jonny Gomes, a goofy guy, is also a committed man. He takes care of those he’s around, including a group of teammates at Fenway Park.

“I think he gives a lot of confidence to players around him,” Farrell said.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases


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