The best trait of Carlos Gomez is this: He is unapologetically Carlos Gomez.
Consciously, ferociously, maybe selfishly, absolutely inflexibly, always in-your-face-ingly Carlos Gomez.
Don't like it? Don't watch. Don't bother. Get him out. Make a pitch.
"I'm not apologizing for nothing I did today," he told reporters Sunday in Pittsburgh. "This is my job. I've been doing it for eight years like that."
Of course there was a fight. Seems there's always a fight, a standoff, words, something. Discipline is coming. Gomez will get his, because he made the mistake of reaching third base against a pitcher who didn't want him to, along with the mistake of being Carlos Gomez, which means his reputation enters the batter's box first, followed at some distance by Carlos Gomez.
His reputation is overrated. Gomez himself is underrated. The former necessarily brings the latter, and has yet again.
In the third inning of a scoreless game Sunday afternoon, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole threw to the Milwaukee Brewers star what looked like a get-me-over, first-pitch slider, middle-middle. Up until that pitch, Gomez was four for 10 in his career against Cole. After that pitch, he was five for 11. And maybe that had something to do with what followed.
What began as a terrible pitch was now a 400-foot something. Maybe a home run. Maybe a double. Maybe Andrew McCutchen would turn it into an out.
Gomez seemed to lean toward home run. He hung around in the batter's box for a second. He discarded his bat with some drama. He began toward first base. Ten seconds later, his reputation began toward first base. Gomez's rep is like the Marines – first in, last out.
Eventually Gomez arrives headfirst at third base, and Cole has a message for him when he does, and Gomez leaps to defend himself, and the rest – fists, helmets, shoves, more fists – is being run through MLB's aggressor-to-peacemaker translation machine.
And this, ultimately and undoubtedly, will be about Carlos Gomez, and his history of not taking any crap, and shouting and tussling bug-eyed amidst the chaos, and, sure, bringing some of it on himself, but not close to all of it.
Cole should not have said a word to Gomez. Gomez should not have thrown a punch. The Pirates should not have rushed the field. The Brewers neither. But, here we are, again.
In September, Gomez took on the Atlanta Braves. He was wrong then. He'd taken his revenge, if that's what you want to call it, on Braves pitcher Paul Maholm. He'd homered. He'd won. As Maholm watched him round the bases, rotating slowly counterclockwise like a music box ballerina, Gomez reminded Maholm that he was a horrible person for hitting him with a pitch three months before. And this is what he got for it. This is what payback looked like, what it sounded like.
The next day, Gomez said he was wrong. Well, he said he was right, but went about it the wrong way. Even in his apologies, he is unapologetic.
And now Gomez is judged in the moment by his past. He hit a triple Sunday afternoon and looked up to find a pitcher all but standing over him in judgment. The reality was, had Gomez fled the box immediately, he may have scored. So if Cole sought the proper words to convey to Gomez, "Thank you" would have been more appropriate than what he settled on, which was something along the lines of, "If you're going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you're going to hit a fly ball to center field, don't watch it," like he gets to decide.
There's a larger issue, one that gets kicked around now and then, the one about the energy inherent in the Latin American game. Gomez is from the Dominican Republic. There, the ball field is not a somber place. There is a code, and that is to live the game. Celebrate the good stuff. Mourn the failures. Get on with the next inning. It's OK to laugh. It's OK to have fun. You want to keep the fun to a minimum? Throw a better pitch.
"I don't think he's the one who tells me what I have to do," Gomez told reporters afterward. "I don't tell him what he needs to do to pitch."
With that, Carlos Gomez, one of the better players in the game, was gone, headed back to Milwaukee, back to the way he plays the game, back to the very game that got him here. Followed closely by his reputation. And that's not going to change.
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