In talking about Jim Johnson’s path to becoming one of the top closers in the game, Orioles manager Buck Showalter often compares Johnson to all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
That’s obviously a difficult comparison, but Showalter has talked about how Rivera didn’t “cheat the system” and about how he worked his way up through the late innings until he was ready to become the Yankees closer, and that helped him flourish.
In his role, Johnson has done the same. On Wednesday, he tied a franchise record by converting his 34thconsecutive save opportunity, equaling Randy Myers' mark set in 1997.
Johnson said he wasn’t even aware he had tied it until after the game. And when asked about it, he said, “It’s good obviously, but that’s a secondary goal of mine. Obviously, winning the game is always the first objective.”
Johnson’s save streak dates back to last July 30. Since Sept. 7, 2011, he leads the majors with 71 saves – ahead of the likes of Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, Washington’s Rafael Soriano and Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney.
But Johnson did have to bide his time for his chance, and he said that made him a better for the closer job once he got it.
“I think it’s more about knowing what kind of pitcher you are,” Johnson said. “I do it differently than other people. I think, when I first started, I tried to be something I wasn’t. I tried to be like a typical closer and strike guys out all the time and that’s not who I am. I’ve reverted back to pitching how I normally do and good results follow.”
Now Johnson’s key is pitching to contact. Much was made about how last season he had more saves than strikeouts. But it has worked.
“I use [the defense] a lot and I plan on doing it that way,” Johnson said. “We have one of the best. You look at our defense across the board. We’ve got three Gold Glovers in the outfield. We have J.J. [Hardy], a Gold Glover at short. [Matt] Wieters behind the plate. Manny [Machado], potentially future [Gold Glover]. [Ryan] Flaherty’s been doing great and [Chris Davis], it doesn’t get any better than that. Those are all capable, high-end caliber gloves in the infield and outfield.”A lot of the credit goes to Johnson himself. He’s converted 95.9 percent (71 of 74) of his save opportunities since taking over the Orioles closer job at the end of the 2011 season, the best percentage of any closer with at least 10 saves in that span.