Gomez's growth a work in progress
Twins' dynamic young talent learning to play to situations
NEW YORK -- The purpose of getting Carlos Gomez into Minnesota's starting lineup for Friday's Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium seemed to be two-fold.
Take advantage of his defensive range in center, with the equally adept Denard Span moving to right and Jason Kubel sliding into the designated-hitter role. But Gomez also adds a speed component to the offense, as one of the most fleet-footed players in all of baseball.
"[Carlos Gomez] irritates people," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, speaking prior to Friday's contest. "Sometimes me."
Those pluses and minuses brought about by Gomez's presence were on display in the Twins' 4-3 loss to the Yankees in 11 innings. He started a two-out, two-run rally in the eighth inning by drawing a walk from Phillip Hughes and racing around to third on Brendan Harris' single to right.
But he also cost Minnesota a run in the fourth on Matt Tolbert's apparent RBI single with two outs. As Delmon Young was racing around third toward the plate, Gomez apparently slipped as he rounded second. Nick Swisher's throw to shortstop Derek Jeter nabbed Gomez for the third out before Young could score.
After the setback, Gomez said that he tried to stop himself rounding second but slipped in the process. He thought the Yankees would be throwing to third, so he tried to get back to second base.
"Everybody knows what I do. I don't put an excuse about it," Gomez said. "I make a bad mistake. That's it."
Gomez came to the Twins as the primary component of the Feb. 2, 2008, deal that sent Johan Santana to the Mets. And Gomez had a solid, if not spectacular, first year with Minnesota, hitting .258, with 59 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 33 stolen bases last season.
The starting center-field job belonged to Gomez, 23, at the outset of the 2009 campaign. But when he hit only .195 through the season's first month, Gomez was relegated to a reserve role.
Along the course of the amazing late-season run put together by the Twins, Gomez has come to understand his responsibilities. It was Gomez who singled to lead off the 12th inning against the Tigers in Tuesday night's AL Central tiebreaker and then scored the game-winning run on Alexi Casilla's single to right.
"Most players have never had to come off the bench and be role guys and bench guys," said Gardenhire of Gomez's development curve. "He's learned to come to the ballpark, prepare himself and be ready for any situation that's available.
"He's learned to prepare, come off the bench and play defense. He knows his job. He's learned the game, because he's had to start figuring out when he's going to play and when he's going to get in a game and how he's going to get in a game. And that's actually having to pay attention to the game and the story line of the game."
Gardenhire believes that having to pay closer attention to when he might be used has made Gomez's at-bats better of late.
"He's put some good swings on some balls and not swung as crazy," Gardenhire said. "[He's] put the ball on the ground. [A.J. Burnett] throws it down in the zone, so hopefully he'll bang the ball on the ground and get on the basepaths for us."
Gardenhire loves the enthusiasm Gomez brings to the game and how much fun he has playing. The Twins manager readily admits that Gomez "wants to do so good that he gets a little bit excited" and "some of the moments get to him." But he's a special player, especially talent-wise.
As for Gardenhire's original statement, concerning what irritates him about Gomez, it goes back to some of his swings.
"When ... we need a baserunner and he swings and falls down on the ground and things like that," said Gardenhire of Gomez, who hit .229 with 51 runs scored in 315 at-bats. "We've been trying to get him to calm down and get him to control the situations, and sometimes the situation controls him. And those are the things we work on with him.
"There are times when, yes, you're like, 'Go-Go, you have to see what we're trying to do here.' We just had a 25-pitch inning from our pitcher, and he goes up and falls down swinging on the first pitch.
"Those things get you irritated as a manager, because we want him to recognize what we're doing in a game," Gardenhire said. "But he can play, and he's fun to watch. He's very, very talented and has a lot to learn, yes, but like I said, when you see him out there in center field covering all that ground and then some of the offensive things that he can do that other people can't do, that's why the guy is in the big leagues."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.