Jim Johnson’s 51 saves in 2012 were the most in baseball and established a new Orioles record in the category. Despite all that success, Johnson’s most memorable regular season moment for me was his first blown save, which demonstrated his resilience as well Buck Showalter’s faith in his new closer. Little did I know at the time that it would also serve as foreshadowing for the American League Division Series.
Johnson’s blown save occurred June 5 at Fenway Park. He allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the ninth inning. A determined Johnson then took the mound again in the 10th inning and retired the side to earn the win. I liked the fact that Johnson wanted to be out there on the mound to right his wrong and that Showalter allowed him to do so. Of course, it didn’t hurt that things worked out for the best and the O’s won.
Fast-forward to last Sunday. Johnson took the mound in Game 1 of the American League Division Series with the score tied in the ninth inning and promptly surrendered five runs to the Yankees. One night later, he held a one-run lead in the ninth and earned his first postseason save.
As I mentioned on Roar from 34 on Thursday, the ovation Johnson received as he entered Game 2 is one of my favorite moments of the postseason thus far. Despite Johnson’s struggles at the outset of the series that put the O’s in an 0-1 hole, fans at Camden Yards showed their appreciation for his efforts throughout the season. The messages communicated by the ovation seemed to be “Thank you” and “We still believe in you.”
The fans’ loyalties, as well as those of the team’s skipper, were tested again Wednesday when Johnson blew a one-run lead to the Yankees. As he did in Boston, Johnson pitched an effective second inning following his failed attempt at a save; however, the team still lost the game and the “What If?” question lingered.
That brings us to Thursday night’s game, when Johnson pitched a perfect 13th inning to send the series to a deciding Game 5. Earlier in the evening, with the teams battling through extra innings, I texted my friend the following message: “I think we’re doomed, although I’d like to see J.J. get redemption.” I was referring to Jim Johnson, not J.J. Hardy, though I was thrilled that by the end of the night the word “redemption” applied to both players.
Altogether, Johnson has a loss, a blown save and two saves in four ALDS games. He’s experienced all of the series’ highs and lows. Along the way, his determination hasn’t wavered, nor has his manager’s confidence in him. Those things are to be expected. After all, we saw them on display in Boston back in June.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.