Grand debut for Johnson as D-backs close gap

LOS ANGELES — The son of a major league player who later became a coach, Chris Johnson grew up in the clubhouse, learning his baseball lessons first-hand. Tread softly. Blend. Introduce yourself with your play.

A grand slam in your debut can crack the ice.

Johnson has never played in a pennant race, but he brought the Diamondbacks another game closer to one this season with his slam in the fifth inning, just six hours after he landed at LAX following his acquisition from the Astros on Sunday.

The D-backs beat the Dodgers 7-2, Johnson received a celebratory beer shower, Trevor Cahill had another strong road outing and the D-backs gained a game on the NL West co-leading Dodgers and Giants, who lost to the Mets in 10 innings.

The D-backs are 3 1/2 back in the division, as close as they have been since May 4, and have cut a 7 1/2-game deficit in half in eight days. They were four games behind the division-leading Giants at this time in 2011.

More than the time change, more than the new division, more than the new home park, that is what Johnson noticed the most Monday.

“One of the guys on the bench said ‘Does anybody know what the Giants did tonight?’ That kind of shocked me. I’m not really used to that,” said Johnson, who gained a new perspective on the final two months of the season after coming from Houston.

“It’s intense out there, especially playing these guys (Dodgers). This team doesn’t want to lose to those guys over there. It was pretty fun tonight. It’s the sense of urgency. Guys want to get on base. Guys want to keep the line moving. Every out, every pitch matters. Guys are taking this pretty seriously, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to follow that lead.”

Johnson is the first player in the 15-year history of the franchise to hit a grand slam in his first game with the Diamondbacks. It was also his first road home run of the year, as each of his previous eight was hit at Minute Maid Park.

He batted in the fifth after Dodgers starter Aaron Harang walked Miguel Montero with the bases loaded and two outs, trying to work his way out of a jam after Aaron Hill walked and Jason Kubel doubled to start the inning.

“I had a chance earlier in the day to drive some runs in and kind of let the guys down,” said Johnson, who hit into a double play with the bases loaded to end the third inning.

“Not only was it the intentional walk, but that was in my mind, too. I wanted to kind of make up for that. Not that I was trying to hit a home run, but any time a guys gets walked in front of you on purpose, you want to go up there and get a big hit.”

He made a face when asked if he felt nerves in his first game here.

“I told one of the guys this was like opening day for me. My nerves were running wild tonight. But I settled down after the fourth or fifth inning. Hopefully those are gone now,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s big hit came after another. Paul Goldschmidt hit a three-run homer in the first off Harang, staking Cahill to a 3-0 lead four batters into the game.

Goldschmidt, who figures to play almost every day with the departure of mentor Lyle Overbay, continued his hot hitting against the NL West with his 14th homer of the year. He drove a 2-0 pitch over the center-field fence, Matt Kemp drifting and drifting back until he collided with the wall. Nine of Goldschmidt’s home runs have come in games in which they could make the most impact — against teams in the NL West.
Cahill extended his somewhat Jekyll-and-Hyde season while improving to 9-9. He is 5-4 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts on the road after holding the Dodgers to six singles and one run in six innings. He is 4-5 with a 4.57 ERA in more hitter-friendly Chase Field.

One thing has been a constant: Give Cahill three runs and he will make them stand up. Cahill is 9-0 in 10 starts in which the D-backs have scored at least three runs for him and 0-9 when he gets two runs or fewer.

With a 3-0 lead before he took the mound, Cahill threw a lot of his pet pitch, a sinking fastball, and got the Dodgers to pound it into the ground. He got double-play grounders with runners on first and second to get out of the first and third innings, and he did not give up a run until it was 7-0.

“I didn’t throw many off-speed pitches. Kind of just stuck with the fastball. After I got the lead, you try to attack hitters and let them try to beat you,” Cahill said.

Cahill gave up a double and a hard-hit lineout to Johnson in the D-backs’ 13-8 victory over the Astros on July 20, so he had a pretty good idea of the caliber of hitter the D-backs were getting.

“Grand slam first game, probably the best way you can enter a new team. Hopefully he can get comfortable here pretty quick. We just played him, and you could tell he was a good player,” Cahill said.