Carlos Gomez won.
He stared a hole straight through the forehead of that Atlanta Braves pitcher, as much as told him he'd beat him right there, right then. Punish him for throwing pitches at his back and knee. Embarrass him in front of his home fans. Hit a ball as far as he could. And enjoy the hell out of it.
And so he did. The player Carlos Gomez had become could do that. Know a pitcher, know a moment, keep it together long enough, see the ball, and lay some of the best bat speed in the league on it. Exhale through the ball, exhale so hard it comes out a grunt, and backspin it all deep into the bleachers.
Wednesday night in Atlanta, that's how he won. Tired of wearing Paul Maholm fastballs home from work at night, Gomez homered. His expression said he wanted to, his first swing said he wanted to, and his next swing put the ball over the fence. Keep throwing at me, Maholm, that at-bat said, and I'll keep doing this. I know and now you know.
Except that wouldn't be the end of it. Gomez wouldn't let it lie there. And the Braves wouldn't either. And on Thursday Gomez was suspended for a game and so was Braves outfielder Reed Johnson, who apparently was a bit too aggressive when Brewers and Braves players met near home plate to sort it out.
Braves catcher Brian McCann, half-man, half-tollbooth, was fined but not suspended, a soft punishment considering McCann stood out in front of the plate and refused to let Gomez pass. This is sometimes the role of the catcher. Usually the baseball is within 400 feet of him, however, which it was not in this case.
The baseball world has since picked its sides. Gomez's is a tad light. Given Gomez's history with Maholm – he'd twice been hit by Maholm pitches – the old-schoolers decided Gomez had earned a decently flamboyant bat flip, a few seconds to marvel at what he'd done, and then three but not four walking strides toward first before breaking into his normal trot.
Gomez did not adhere to this, wore the wrath of the old men on TV and in the press box, and later via Twitter apologized to everyone. He may not have started it and he almost certainly did not end it. But he did seem to enjoy it. It's taken him a long time to be this player, even at 27. If he had a hit for every coach who'd talked about his potential, he'd be halfway to Jeter, at least. And now he's that guy. If his team didn't stink, he'd be a legit MVP candidate, and he'll pull plenty of votes as it is. He's figured it out, and nobody's going to treat him like a punk anymore, throw at him like he's nobody. And maybe this is what sent him out on those basepaths ready to take on nine Braves.
It didn't quite work out. The last line was McCann, who has a well-earned reputation for policing other men's batter's box activities. A couple weeks back he gave Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez a lecture on ballpark decorum. Fernandez later apologized. On Wednesday it was Gomez.
McCann was every bit as angry as Gomez. And, one might say, as misbehaved as well. The difference: While Gomez fought for personal satisfaction, McCann fought for his teammates. For his pitcher. And, yes, perhaps, for some personal view of how the game should or should not be played. Maybe that's not for him to decide, though at that moment it was, and he was the one padded to the teeth.
"It's not all [Gomez's] fault," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told reporters after the game. "You know, somebody starts yelling at you, and [Gomez] is hot-tempered, and then you got everybody yelling at him the whole way, a guy standing in front of home plate. So he's not the only one that's at blame here."
Gomez's rise from prospect to everyday player to bust to everyday player to All-Star is nothing short of admirable. He is a terrific player. He all but called his shot Wednesday night and then hit the home run he had to hit. He's that good.
"It's the only opportunity I have," Gomez told reporters before tweeting his apology. "And that's what I did."
Yep, he won. He knew it. Maholm knew it. At the end of the day, nobody else had to know.