Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes celebrates as he rounds first base after… (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)
ST. LOUIS — Jonny Gomes does not really look the part of World Series hero. Not too tall, kind of squat, a designated hitter on a team that already has one.
He is a dead pull hitter. There is nothing complicated or secret about his swing.
"He's like the little guy in the pinball game," Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "Just swings and comes back."
That is not a bad way to sum up his career. Gomes is a baseball itinerant.
BOX SCORE: Red Sox 4, Cardinals 2
On Sunday, though, Gomes forever etched his name into the lore of one of baseball's most storied franchises. On a day the Red Sox appeared hobbled and defeated, Gomes hit the home run that might have saved their season.
With their starting pitcher gutting out four innings with a sore right shoulder, their right fielder out with back stiffness, and their first baseman on the bench because their designated hitter needed a place to play, Gomes stepped up as the star of a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
With one swing — and, oh, how he enjoyed it — Gomes lifted the Red Sox to the unlikely triumph that tied the World Series at two games apiece and ensured it will return to Boston for a Game 6.
"If I tried to put it into words, I'd probably screw it up," Gomes said.
Gomes is 32. In 2001, he was the 18th-round draft pick of a franchise then known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"There weren't that many people that knew that was a professional team," he said.
He stopped in Cincinnati, Washington, Oakland and Boston in the last three years alone. He was on the wrong side of 30 before any team guaranteed him more than $1.75 million for a season.
"Skin of a rhinoceros," Gomes said. "Heart of a lion."
The Red Sox needed a platoon outfielder, so Gomes signed with a last-place team best known last year for a successful clubhouse mutiny against its manager.
He blended in famously, he and his beard. When the Boston Marathon bombings struck, Gomes swung two bats with the names of four victims on the barrel, then auctioned off the bats for charity.
There was the baseball part. Gomes did what he was supposed to do, hit whenever he could, play some left field. He hit 13 home runs, four as a pinch-hitter. He helped turn the clubhouse into a place where teammates supported each other rather than turned on one another.
That kind of support was what the Red Sox envisioned from Gomes on Sunday. He was not in the original lineup. But Shane Victorino's back tightened up and, all of a sudden, Gomes was batting fifth, right behind David Ortiz.
There was a delay before the start of the sixth inning. As baseball paused to raise money for cancer research, Gomes held up a sign with the names of two victims — his high school baseball coach, now deceased, and Brady Wein, a 5-year-old battling leukemia.
Then, as the Cardinals warmed up, Ortiz gathered the Boston players and told them to relax and have fun.
The opportunity to play in the World Series, he said, does not come around very often.
"If this guy wants to rally us together for a pep talk, it's like 24 kindergartners looking at their teacher," Gomes said.
This is the first World Series for Gomes. Number of career at-bats before his first postseason home run, the one he hit in that sixth inning on Sunday: 2,999.
He paused to admire his majestic shot, then pumped his right arm into the sky as he rounded first base, and all the way to second, and again at home plate. He insisted he had not thought in advance about how flashy his trot might be.
"I don't think I'm that good to plan out my home runs in the World Series," he said.
He was good enough that the Hall of Fame wanted his bat. He was happy to donate it. The ball landed in the Boston bullpen, so Gomes was lucky enough to get it back, a souvenir of his moment in the spotlight, 10 years in the making.