Johnson still began the night leading the majors with 29 saves, but he hasn’t been the same pitcher. And he’s being asked the same questions while standing at his locker.
Tonight, it was his error while attempting to field Brett Gardner’s bunt that compounded his problems. A four-pitch bases-loaded walk to Travis Hafner tied the game, and Vernon Wells singled to give the Yankees a 3-2 win.
“The thing that really changed it was me screwing up the whole bunt,” Johnson said. “Trying to do too many things at once instead of just taking the out, and then I screw the whole play up and that kind of escalates the situation. Obviously, the walk to Hafner, walking in the tying run, that’s not what I’m trying to do.
“It’s frustrating. I’ve been working since Day One to get to where I need to get, but I’m still going to keep working hard.”
Johnson thought about trying for the out at second base on Gardner’s bunt. Instead, he came up empty.
“That was my first thing,” he said. “I thought I could have probably caught it and then it was kind of like in between and then I was still thinking I could have gone to second to get the lead runner. And then I just screwed the whole thing up. Usually, I’m a pretty good fielder. Well, usually I am. I take pride in what I do out there, and obviously that kind of didn’t really help the situation.”
Asked what’s wrong with him this season, Johnson replied, “A lot of it is just getting ahead and just making good pitches. The walks have been uncharacteristic. I told you that a while ago. That’s something I’ve been continuing to work on. We’ll find it. There’s going to be a key there somewhere. I’ll figure it out.”
Johnson was making his 43rd appearance tonight, and most of them are going to come with the game on the line. That’s the life of a closer.
“That’s what I am supposed to do,” he said. “That’s part of the job description. It doesn’t really matter when you look at the number of appearances. Buck (Showalter) does a good job of managing the rest of the guys in the bullpen, myself included. So that doesn’t really play a factor into it.”
Catcher Matt Wieters offered his thoughts on the ninth inning and Johnson’s performance.
“First guy gets on on a hit and hit the ball right, couple of bunts, then they had bases loaded with one out. And just couldn’t quite get Hafner to bite on those sinkers, because you’re trying to get a double play ball there and know if you can get him on the ground, you have a chance for it. He doesn’t bite and took his walk and then Vernon found a hole,” Wieters said.
“The thing with Jim is getting strike one is most important, because once you get strike one, they’re going to have to expand, try and swing at your tough pitches, and right now, they’re just in hitters counts when you think they can lay off those tough pitches. So strike one will be big for him, and he’ll be ready to go.”
Johnson’s error fueled the rally.
“It’s a tough bunt with a guy that can run,” Wieters said. “It’s actually a ball that if he gets to, he might have a chance to throw it to second, so he had in his mind we had a chance at second on this one, and just didn’t get an out.
“Those three outs are the hardest three outs of the game, but we have confidence in Jim, and we know if we have a one-run lead tomorrow, we’ll be happy to get him back out there.”