Plea to 'baseball gods' doesn't help Gomes

Indians hold 'sacrificial ceremony' to exorcise catcher's tough luck

Plea to 'baseball gods' doesn't help Gomes

CLEVELAND -- Wrapped in a white sheet, Yan Gomes knelt before a rotisserie chicken that a few of his teammates purchased Saturday morning. Gomes held a bat and listened as Mike Napoli, wearing a rainbow cape while surrounded by Cleveland's players, placed his left hand on the catcher's head while reading a prayer.

This was a plea to the baseball gods on Gomes' behalf.

"We have prepared this exorcism to honor thy holiness," Napoli read from a sheet of paper, "and to absolve Yan Gomes of any wrongdoing that he may have committed towards thee."

The way Gomes' teammates saw things, the catcher's season-long struggles and bad luck in the batter's box had gone too far. Second baseman Jason Kipnis -- one of the orchestrators behind Saturday's sacrificial ceremony -- said a line needed to be drawn in the sand after what happened to Gomes during Friday's 5-2 win over the Twins.

Gomes hit a line drive that appeared to be destined for right field in the fourth inning, but Minnesota first baseman Joe Mauer snared it with an incredible diving catch. In the sixth, Gomes pulled a pitch 106 mph down the third-base line, where Miguel Sano gloved it for a fielder's choice groundout. In the eighth, Gomes hit another sharp grounder to the right side, where Brian Dozier grabbed it with a diving play.

"It's tough for him," said Indians replay coordinator Mike Barnett, who helps out with the hitters and worked with Gomes over the All-Star break in Knoxville, Tenn. "It did sum up his season."

Heading into Saturday, Gomes ranked last among the 193 Major League players with at least 250 plate appearances in batting average (.163), on-base percentage (.198), weighted Runs Created Plus (29) and batting average on balls in play (.188). This is the same Gomes who won a Silver Slugger Award in 2014 and owned a .312 career BABIP before this season.

Every time he steps to the plate, those paltry numbers tower over him from the scoreboard.

"I know that's not me. I know I'm a better hitter," Gomes said. "I know I can help on that side of the field, the offensive side. I still have 80 games to show it. I know the first half wasn't what we wanted."

Gomes' run of misfortune persisted in Saturday's 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Twins.

First, the catcher flew out to right field as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning on a sliding grab by Minnesota's Max Kepler. As Gomes walked to the plate in the 11th, the game entered into a rain delay lasting more than two hours. In the bottom of the inning -- as the game dragged into Sunday morning -- the catcher dropped a throw to the plate by reliever Joseph Colon, allowing the game's winning run to score with the bases loaded.

"Gomer just didn't look it into the glove good enough," Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Roughly four hours before the game began, Gomes' teammates -- in the only way they knew how -- decided to try to help.

Following Friday night's game, Kipnis talked things over with Napoli, Lonnie Chisenhall and Chris Gimenez. When morning arrived, they headed to Target in downtown Minneapolis to gather items for Saturday's pregame blessing. They bought the chicken, which was placed in the middle of a wreath. They purchased colorful capes for the players and presented Gomes with a Dory stuffed animal from the "Finding Dory" movie.

"Just keep swinging. Just keep swinging," Gimenez said with a smile.

They bought a pinata, so Gomes' first hard contact after the blessing on his bats would yield candy for the team. There were also themed songs for portions of the ritual. When Gomes walked into the dimmed visitors' clubhouse at Target Field, Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" blared. Then, the Tribe turned to "The Lion King" for inspiration. When the catcher sliced through the cooked chicken, "Circle of Life" played. As the ceremony wrapped up, "Hakuna Matata" blasted.

Kipnis, who posted a series of videos on Twitter, said Gomes took everything in stride.

"We sacrificed a chicken to the baseball gods and Jobu," Kipnis said. "We gave them gifts and peace offerings. Hopefully, they'll accept them and turn the tide on our catcher. ... He was laughing. He was all in good spirits and it went over really well. It was fun."

Francona stood in the background and enjoyed the entire scene.

"I thought it was funny. I thought that was probably clubhouse humor to the nth degree," Francona said. "That's probably stuff you don't do in the regular workplace, but I thought it was good. I think it showed Gomer how much they care about him, which is good."

Gomes retreated to Knoxville over the All-Star break to take his mind off baseball for a few days.

The catcher got to see his recently finished house and spend time with his wife and young daughter. Gomes went out on the lake near his home and did what he could to relax for the first couple days away from the ballpark. On Tuesday night, though, Gomes texted Barnett, asking if he wanted to meet Wednesday to go over some hitting mechanics they had been working on.

They looked at video from Gomes' 2014 season and focused on getting the catcher's hands in a similar starting position as two years ago. Barnett liked what he saw Friday, when Gomes had his hands more raised and slightly back more, helping him get into a better position to recognize pitches.

"He worked deeper into counts. I thought his pitch selection was a lot better," Barnett said Saturday. "He could've easily had three hits and probably two RBIs at least last night. And he comes out with an 0-for-4, but I think he's got to feel good about it."

As for the ceremony, Gomes shook his head and smiled when approached by reporters.

"I'm still trying to gather myself," he said. "That was something."

Whether the baseball gods accept the gifts remains to be seen.

Gomes would rather point to the fact that the Indians are atop the American League Central.

"It's too selfish of me to sit around and sulk," Gomes said. "It's too selfish of me and I'm not helping the team in any way [if I do that]. Whichever way I can to come back and do something, as long as we're still winning, there's still going to be a smile at the end of the year."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.