Jim Johnson had a slight margin for error a night after the Baltimore Orioles closer allowed a tie game to turn into a blowout.
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Not that a one-run lead with the top of the New York Yankees lineup is much.
“It would have been nice to have a big lead, but I kind of figured that’s how it usually works,” said Johnson, who led the MLB in saves (51). “You have a rough one and you are put right under the pressure cooker for the next outing. You just have to trust your stuff.”
Twelve pitches later — including a game-ending strikeout of floundering Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez — and Johnson secured his first postseason save and the Orioles had a 3-2 victory in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Orioles Park at Camden Yards on Monday night to knot the best-of-five series, 1-1.
Johnson admitted to “doing something a little different” in the way he was throwing the ball before the game, although he made no drastic changes to his regimen after he allowed five runs and recorded only one out in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 7-2 Yankees win in Game 1.
“You put your pants on,” Johnson quipped. “Honestly, I do the same thing every day. I looked at the tape this morning. Obviously, when you have an outing like that the night before, you want to go out right away.”
Like Game 1 with Jason Hammel on the mound, Game 2 starter Wei-Yin Chen held the Yankees mostly in check. He worked 6-1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs before the bullpen allowed just one hit the rest of the way.
Only one of the runs Chen allowed was earned, due to an infield error, although a missed tag by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and some stunning dance moves by Ichiro Suzuki in the first inning was the true culprit. A relay throw home by Orioles second baseman Robert Andino on a single by Robinson Cano looked to have Suzuki out by a good 15 feet before Suzuki’s acrobatics.
“I thought I might have nicked a button, but it was close,” Wieters said with a smirk as the replay ran on a TV screen behind him in the Orioles’ clubhouse. “He’s quick and made a pretty good move. I wish I could have got him.”
Then came a base-running blunder that stunted a two-run Orioles rally in the third inning. J.J. Hardy appeared primed to score from second on an Adam Jones single through the left side as third base coach DeMarlo Hale waved his arms feverishly.
“I thought Jeter fielded it and the only play he would have would be to throw it to third,” Hardy said. “I didn’t want to get caught rounding third. It turned out he didn’t field it and I looked like an idiot.”
And the fans — this time clutching white towels instead of orange — let him have it after the inning ended on a Wieters popout.
“My teammates picked me up a couple times,” said Hardy, who also had an error at shortstop. “I made a couple miscues. In the playoffs, against these guys, you can’t have those. We were fortunate to come up with a win tonight.”
The Orioles got that third run in the sixth inning on a Mark Reynolds RBI single.
As much as Johnson talked up the fact that he didn’t change his routine on Monday, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Before the game, Johnson presented fellow reliever Darren O’Day with a massive check (like the one presented to lottery winners) for $200 to make good on a bet lost on a basketball game the two played. O’Day said he had the real check in his locker and the money would go to his an animal rescue charity.
Afterward, Johnson gave Orioles principal owner Peter Angelos the game ball from his 43rd save, which sealed the Orioles’ first winning season since 1997.
One habit that Johnson and the Orioles would probably like to stick to, however, is their road success at Yankee Stadium, where the series resumes on Wednesday; Baltimore was 6-3 in the Bronx during the regular season.