CHICAGO – One year ago today, Dan Johnson became intertwined with baseball’s September lore.
On the anniversary of his game-tying home run, which helped send the Rays to the playoffs in Game 162, the Sox are fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive against Tampa Bay.
“That’s pretty much fictional kind of stuff that became reality,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a wonderful guy; I know how calm he is in big moments. He’s quite a weapon for the White Sox.”
The Sox hope he provides the same late-season magic off their bench. Johnson’s ability to drive in runs with one swing of the bat – he hit 28 homers at Triple-A Charlotte this season – has turned him into one of manager Robin Ventura’s go-to reserves.
Since joining the Sox on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded, six of his seven pinch hit appearances have come in the eighth inning or later. In 10 games this season, including three starts, Johnson is hitting .357 with one RBI and six walks.
His plate patience led to the Sox’s comeback win Monday against the Indians. Entering the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, Johnson drew a full-count walk part of a nine-pitch at-bat. Three batters later Adam Dunn hit the game-winning, three-run homer.
“Some guys play their careers and maybe get one of those opportunities or none at all,” Johnson said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to run into those [situations] quite a few times. I’ve had success during that time so I feel like I’ve figured a way of harnessing the energy and the amount of adrenaline, nerves, everything else and figured out a way to use it to my advantage.”
Some players get labeled as being clutch, but Johnson believes it’s the situations that make the player. Johnson pointed to his pinch hit, game-tying homer off closer Jonathan Papelbon at Boston in 2008 with the Rays as the moment he realized he can succeed in clutch situations off the bench. The key, Johnson said, is slowing everything down at the plate.
“In my mind, I’m looking for a pitch I can drive, something I can do some damage with,” Johnson said. “ … I’ve always been patient. If it’s not there I try not to chase it.“Go up there, relax as much as you can, breathe and take it easy because everything else is works a lot better when you have that adrenaline pumping.”
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria hopes he doesn’t see his former teammate step into the box during their series at U.S. Cellular Field. Longoria, Johnson’s teammate for three seasons in Tampa Bay, has witnessed the damage the lefty can inflict.
“He has a knack for getting big hits, so if he’s in a situation where he has a chance to do some damage, obviously their lineup is pretty potent over there, but he’d be a guy I’d have my eye on,” Longoria said.