Jim Johnson is back.
Well, its not like he was ever gone or left. Just kind of went AWOL for a few minutes Sunday night in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees.
However, the big right-hander returned with a vengeance in the ninth inning of Game 2 Monday night. The Birds were holding a 3-2 lead, and manager Buck Showalter called on him to close the door.
Johnson got Derek Jeter on a first-pitch ground-out, using a nasty sinker. Ichiro grounded out also before Alex Rodriguez ran the count full, and Johnson struck him out. Twelve pitches, eight strikes, ballgame.
I looked at the tape this morning, Johnson said. I went out and played catch to try and do something different. I had a little bit better feel on my fastball today and I was able to locate it better.
He relied heavily on his fastballsinker, and the Yankees couldnt handle it this time. Most teams couldnt handle it this year as Johnson finished with 51 saves. He was a rock for the Orioles in his role as a closer, but no closer can be perfect. Even Mariano Rivera has blown a few saves.
But Johnson said giving up the five runs in the ninth inning of Game 1 was over. He wanted to right the ship and get another chance. He said youve got to put the bad stuff out of your mind and move on to the next day.
Thats what he did.
You want the ball right away, Johnson said. You dont want to sit on it. You want to redeem yourself right away.
He did just that. The Orioles werent worried about him. That was obvious in the locker room after Game 1. Showalter said he never blinked or thought about bringing in anyone else. Jim Johnson is his closer.
Its real easy, like I said last night, to trust Jim Johnson, Showalter said. Hes done it a few times for us. He hasnt had many it really wasnt a blown save, it was pitching in a tie game in the ninth inning. Regardless if it was or wasnt, Jimmy would have been out there again tonight. Hes having a special year, a special year.