The Stunning Return of Yan Gomes: Cleveland’s Spirit Yanimal

Yan Gomes

If the 2016 Cleveland Indians are destined to be remembered as the ultimate heart-and-soul club—a relentless bunch of grinders unfazed by adversity and fueled by a selfless determination to succeed—then I have a new nominee for team MVP. Right up until the third inning of the last day of a happily abbreviated 161-game season, I was reclining quite comfortably on the Jose Ramirez bandwagon. But, in the eleventh hour on a Sunday afternoon, I finally saw the light. It’s Yan Gomes, people! It’s been Yan Gomes all along—not because he’s been a good player for this team1, but because he embodies the Cleveland Indians.

The Yanimal—a fuzz-chinned Brazilian creature nearly placed on the endangered species list on several occasions this summer—completed his improbable return to grace on Sunday by homering in his first MLB at-bat in over two months. It was no fluff-piece storyline either. The two-run blast off Ian Kennedy was the key blow in a 3-2 win over the once-and-former champion Kansas City Royals; a team the Tribe beat eight straight times down the stretch en route to a division title, 94-win season, and home field advantage in the ALDS.

Here’s Yan ‘s take on how it went down:

“I didn’t really feel anything. I was kind of numb throughout. Going into that at-bat, I was kind of shaking my legs to see if I could stay in the moment here. It’s been a pretty long journey getting back and trying to be part of the on-field part of this team. I’m glad to be back. . . . Being pretty honest, I kind of couldn’t believe it. It was a moment of I couldn’t believe I was playing, and then I couldn’t believe I hit a homer in the first at-bat. It was a pretty exciting moment.”

Gomes’ moonshot redemption-tater2 felt like the ultimate symbolic moment for a team about to enter the postseason as a clear underdog. The Indians might be undermanned and limping to the finish line, but Yan Gomes’ entire year has been a limping, stumbling, staggering, tripping, whiffing mess . . . and he still closed it like a mother-effing boss. If the team has an MVP (Most Valorous Player), just hand this dude the trophy already.

Three days ago, Gomes was considered done for the season. His litany of bad breaks in 2016, and 2015 for that matter, sound more like a Cleveland Browns game synopsis. There were the historic struggles with the bat (his homer on Sunday mercifully raised his season OBP above an eye-poppingly woeful .200); the Jobu ritual gone wrong; the long road back from shoulder surgery; and the insulting cruelty of a fractured hand on his final rehab at-bat. That last bit was just a little over two weeks ago! And yet here was Gomes—kind of shockingly—activated for the Royals series about a month ahead of schedule. And now, even more incredibly, he’s in consideration for a playoff roster spot.

Yan Gomes’ entire year has been a limping, stumbling, staggering, tripping, whiffing mess, and he still closed it like a mother-effing boss.

In a normal circumstance, looking at the facts, there is NO WAY you reserve a spot for a guy with a .200 OBP, a busted paw, and one hit to his credit in the past 11 weeks. In a weird way, though, it feels like this SHOULD happen, even if it means carrying three catchers and leaving a perfectly useful pinch-runner or remotely versatile piece (eh, Michael Martinez?) off the team. If Jobu has finally forgiven Yan for whatever rum-related crimes he may have committed in the past, we have to see what role a curse-free Gomes has to play in the drama ahead.

In the meantime, since it seems likely that a postseason Gomes still wouldn’t swing the bat much if at all, I just want to tip my cap to the guy for finding a way to end a bad song with one beautiful note. Nobody deserved it more…though I still would trade this entire feel good-story to have Jonathan Lucroy’s bat in the line-up. C’est la vie.

There will be MUCH more coverage of the Indians’ impending series with the always fun-to-hate Boston Red Sox in the days ahead. But for now, considering how things were looking heading into the weekend, we ought to take a moment to catch our breath and smile. It’s hard to believe how fortuitously everything has worked out, all things considered. Not only is Gomes back (in at least some capacity), but we also managed to avoid losing any additional starting pitchers to injury; Kluber and Salazar got “good” reports on their bullpen sessions; and the Tigers’ choke job at historic Turner Field made Game 162 a moot point. We also watched Boston and Texas surrender any momentum (meaningless or otherwise) they might have generated heading into the first round.3

Red Sox, Again

There are quite a few AL teams the Indians have still never faced in the playoffs, including the Rangers and Blue Jays. The Red Sox, obviously, are not one of them. Way back in 1948, Cleveland beat the Sox at Fenway in a one-game tiebreaker playoff, sending them to the World Series, where they beat the other Boston team, the Braves. It ended the Indians’ long 28 year title drought, and started a new 67 year one.

More recently, since the Tony Pena homerun game in 1995, the Sox and Tribe have played an additional 19 postseason games, with Cleveland winning 11 of them. No one needs to be reminded of their last go-round in 2007. My distinct memory is being up 3-1 in the ALCS and listening to my friend, a Red Sox fan, whine about their blown opportunities as he mournfully conceded the series to me. I explained that this was ludicrous, because…Cleveland. He eventually learned.

Fortunately, as a city that has now experienced the other side of a blown 3-1 lead in a major postseason series, the mojo might just be shifting in our direction. And, no obnoxious Big Papi farewell moments will mean more to us than Yan Gomes dragging his broken body around the bases, cursing all curses in Portuguese.

  1. He hasn’t, mostly []
  2. Less dramatic but maybe more emotional than, say, Tyler Naquin’s walkoff inside-the-park job. []
  3. Big thank you in order to Mark Shapiro’s Toronto Blue Jays for taking care of the Red Sox and handing the Indians home field advantage. []