Newcomer Kelly Johnson fits Orioles' 'next man up' mentality perfectly
By By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 15, 2014 | 7:30 AM
Kelly Johnson has worn an Orioles uniform for just two weeks, but he already owns his own little part of Oriole Magic.
Derek Jeter, who was Johnson's teammate for most of this season with the New York Yankees, was the main attraction this weekend in his final regular-season visit to Camden Yards.
As has been the case in Jeter's other final stops this season, the Orioles pretty much rolled out the orange carpet for him, giving him a U.S. Navy captain's hat, a bushel of steamed crabs, an oversized crab mallet, a custom-made cake and a $10,000 donation in his name to the Miracle League of Manasota (Fla.).
But in Jeter's farewell trip to Baltimore, he was 0-for-11 as the Orioles took three of four games from the Yankees. The Orioles have now won 11 of 15 against New York this season.
On Sunday night, the hero was Johnson, who hit a first-pitch delivery from David Robertson into the right-center-field gap for a walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Entering the night, Johnson had just three hits -- all doubles -- in 15 at-bats since joining the Orioles, but two of those hits drove in runs. Regardless, Johnson's hit in the ninth inning Sunday was his biggest in his short time with the club, giving the Orioles their 10th walk-off win of the season.
"It's really, really exciting," Johnson said. "I'm not going to lie. It feels really good. You want to contribute, you want to drive in runs, you want to score runs, all those things and you want to be a part of it.
It also gave us the latest example of the Orioles' "new hero every night" credo.
"It feels like a first-place team," Johnson said. "You just kind of get a feel that it's meant to be. Things find a way to happen; you find a way to win rather than ways to lose. It's been pretty cool. I haven't been here long, but I've seen some things I haven't seen before."
Johnson will see more playing time down the stretch -- and maybe in the postseason -- because of Chris Davis' suspension, which will carry over into the American League Championship Series if the club makes it. He has suddenly become a big part of this team.
And with this team's "next man up" mentality, Johnson fits the script.
Lose Matt Wieters for the year? Bring up career minor leaguer Caleb Joseph and trade for Nick Hundley.
Lose Manny Machado? Put Davis at third base and shift Steve Pearce to first base.
Lose Davis to a suspension? No worries. Johnson and Jimmy Paredes -- both of whom were in different organizations at the All-Star break -- have it covered.
Johnson knows what it's like to play for a winner. He came up through the Atlanta Braves system and played in the postseason last year with the Tampa Bay Rays. And he sees a lot of similarities with those teams and this Orioles club.
"I think something this team [has] in common with teams that I've played on that have won their division and gone to the playoffs, pitching has been so good that regardless of what the offense is doing, close enough to give the offense a chance," Johnson said before Saturday's game.
"That seems to be a pretty common denominator among teams that win. You know that the offense is going to be good, the defense is going to be good. I've been really, really impressed with how good the pitchers are. They're turned it up. That's the kind of stuff people talk about when people talk about replacing production, you lose a player, and you've got to give them a lot of credit."
And now the Orioles can pretty much ship the champagne to Camden Yards. With their magic number at three over the Toronto Blue Jays, they can clinch their first division title since 1997 by winning two of three this week against the Blue Jays.
"Yeah, it does, but we haven't done it yet, so when that time comes, we'll celebrate, and we'll have a lot of fun," Johnson said. "That's the bottom line is finishing the job, and then we'll get to celebrate."