In the 162nd game of last season, Johnson was called upon to pinch hit with the Rays trailing the New York Yankees 7-6 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. On an 0-2 count, Johnson delivered one of the franchise’s biggest hits as he drove the ball over the right-field wall to tie the game and help boost the Rays into the playoffs as they completed the comeback in extra innings.
A year later, Johnson hopes to provide the same magic for the White Sox.
In Monday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Cleveland Indians, Johnson displayed a glimpse of his self-assurance in those tight situations.
In the eighth inning with the White Sox trailing 3-2, manger Robin Ventura turned to Johnson to pinch hit for Gordon Beckham against Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano with one out. The at-bat went as follows -- Johnson took a strike, then a ball, fouled off consecutive pitches, took two more balls, fouled off two more pitches and then finally took another ball to earn a walk.
“(I was impressed) just how well he grinded it,” White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto said prior to Tuesday’s game. “I think it was a nine-pitch at-bat. Just to come off the bench and not playing that much, to have that quality of at-bat was really something special.”
Johnson’s walk became to the game-tying run minutes later when Adam Dunn hit a three-run home run to put the White Sox ahead for good and remain one game ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central race.
Johnson never doubted he would come through, and he believes Ventura and his teammates hold that same level of trust in him.
“I think the track record speaks for itself in those situations,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a good tool to have for the end of the game, for a coach, a manager and the players to think there’s a good chance to think something good is going to happen. I think I kind of feed off that, like the expectations. The amount of success I’ve had in those situations, I really believe I’m going to do it, too. I think that combination of everybody together on something, I really think it does positive things out there.”
Johnson’s opportunities have varied since being called up from Triple-A Charlotte on Sept. 1, but he has been successful in most of them. He has five hits in 14 at-bats with two doubles, one RBI, five walks and a .525 on-base percentage.
Johnson has had to be patience for his chance this season. A 33-year-old journeyman, Johnson watched as other younger players were chosen over him to fill in for the White Sox all season despite putting up impressive numbers in the minors. He was hitting .267 with 28 home runs, 85 RBIs, 94 walks and a .388 on-base percentage when he finally he got the call from Chicago.
Johnson has been eager to prove himself now, but he doesn’t like to reflect on where he’s come from.
“Everything in the past is already gone,” Johnson said. “I can’t even tell you. I worry about today’s game. I’m telling you in this game if you dwell on anything, any negativity, it’s going to affect you at the plate, it’s going to affect you in the field. This game is too much of inches to let anything get in your mind.
“I’ve totally forgotten about it already. This year, this is the way I look at it, I look at it as there’s nine games left and we got to make to the playoffs. Everything else in the past is passed. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done for me lately. It’s got to be right now. That’s how I kind of look at everything.”
Johnson is ready for his next clutch opportunity. If that means stepping to the plate in the last game of the regular season again, he’s all for it.
“You got to start small,” Johnson said joking when asked about his home run for the Rays. “There’s still nine games left, you know what I’m saying? If it comes down to the last strike of the season, there’s somebody who likes to do that kind of stuff, likes those situations. That’s the way it is.”