Orioles closer Jim Johnson was automatic throughout most of 2012. But he loaded the bases in the wild-card game and completely imploded Sunday night, giving up five runs (four earned) while retiring just one batter in the O's 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, for one, isn’t concerned about his closer.
“No, that's the easiest question I'll get tonight,” Showalter said. “It's real easy to put your faith in a guy like Jim Johnson, not only as a pitcher but as a man. He's the reason why we're out there playing this game tonight, one of the big reasons. Every guy in that clubhouse knows that he's a special guy. You'd have to be real picky to find something you don't like about Jim Johnson. We like him wearing our uniform, whatever the statistical outcome may be. He's pretty special.”
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Johnson converted 51 of 54 save opportunities during the regular season. He hadn’t blown a save since July 27 against Oakland. That was also the last time he had given up multiple runs in a game.
“I made mistakes. I obviously paid for those, and that was location,” Johnson said. “It wasn't anything else. It was just location, mainly, two fastballs that really cost us. Just have to make a better pitch. That's all it comes down to.”
He had been scored on just once his last 27 appearances heading into Sunday, which started with a 2-0 fastball to Russell Martin that the Yankees catcher hit over the left-field wall. It was just the fourth homer he had given up this season, and the first since June 5.
“Made a mistake, obviously, to Martin and a couple of other mistakes over the middle of the plate. We paid for it obviously,” he said. “It's unfortunate, with the effort we got out of everybody else and I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I feel confident in our team, and we'll come back tomorrow and give a better performance.”
And Johnson’s teammates remain confident in him; despite the stage, it’s much easier to dismiss one bad inning after the season he has had.
“You’ve got to give the ball to your best pitcher,” rookie third baseman Manny Machado said. “JJ, he’s been lights out. He had a bad inning, but it happens to the best of us.”