Yan Gomes had come up to bat with a chance to hit for the cycle before. Four times, in fact, as a big leaguer. But never like this.
On those four previous occasions (once with the Nationals, three times with the Indians), Gomes needed a triple to complete the cycle. And in each case, he had only one at-bat at the end of the game to try to do it.
So imagine how surreal it felt for the 33-year-old catcher when he stepped up to bat in the top of the sixth Friday night in Arizona, having already doubled, tripled and singled, knowing he now just needed the homer. And even if he didn’t connect, he’d still get at least one more chance later in the game.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a shot at that,” Gomes said with a laugh during his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “It was one of those things, man. I took a shot in the fourth at-bat, when I got the base hit up the middle. And then I had a pitch to do it with and fouled it off. But it just goes back to, I think you just want to have a good at-bat and take a good swing. Didn’t get it done, but we came out with the win.”
The Nationals came out with a 17-2 drubbing of the Diamondbacks, and Gomes emerged with one of the best offensive performances of his career. He wound up getting three shots at the cycle before the game ended, striking out in the seventh but then singling off position player David Peralta in the ninth to cap a 5-for-6 night with eight total bases.
“Something’s going well,” he said. “It’s just one of those days. Hit the ball well. Got to work a little bit with (hitting coach Kevin Long) before the game. Tried to work on things that were making me have good at-bats early in the year. Just trying to get back to what I was doing well. It’s one of those things where you work and the results come in. Those are nice.”
This might have been Gomes’ best performance of the season, but it’s far from his only big night at the plate in 2021. He enters tonight’s game sporting a .288 batting average, four homers, 13 RBIs and an .821 OPS that trails only Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman on the Nationals roster.
Now consider that he’s doing it while also taking on his heaviest catching workload in a while.
Gomes tonight is starting his 22nd game behind the plate, which would put him on pace to catch 102 games this season. But that stat is misleading because he missed the season’s opening series while on the COVID-19 injury list and needed to ease his way back in once he was activated.
The more telling stat is this: Tonight, Gomes is starting for the 11th time in 13 games. He has taken more plate appearances in May than any other catcher in the National League.
“So far, he’s been great,” said manager Davey Martinez, who checks with the 33-year-old every day to see how he’s feeling before penciling his name into the lineup. “We’ve had conversations about him playing. I remember he played, like, six days in a row, and he came in my office and he kind of looked at me, jokingly, and said: ‘What are you trying to do, kill me?’ I said: ‘What? I told you, you were going to play!’ He started laughing. But I asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ and he says, ‘Great.’”
This was the plan from the beginning after the Nationals chose not to re-sign Kurt Suzuki and instead added the less offensively potent Alex Avila as their backup catcher. They saw Gomes hit better the more he played in the previous two seasons and believed it was time to make him a true No. 1 catcher.
“He knew from the get-go that he was going to play,” Martinez said. “And it seems like, from doing the research, when he gets consistent at-bats, he can put up good numbers. And he’s shown that. So we want to get him out there as much as possible. But yeah, we want to keep him healthy throughout the whole year.”
Gomes has started more than 100 games only twice in his career, and it’s been seven years since he topped out at 121 starts behind the plate in 2014 for Cleveland.
But he seems to be handling the extra workload well, both physically and in his performance. And until they see signs of wear and tear, the Nationals plan to continue with the plan.
“It’s just communication with him,” Martinez said. “I know he wants to play every day, but I can tell when he needs a day, just by hearing it in his voice. Yesterday he went through a pretty good day, ran the bases a lot. But I talked to him afterward and he said he felt fine. And I talked to him again today, he said: ‘I feel good.’ So we’re going to run him back out there.”