For all the important moments in Thursday’s victory, two in particular stood out.
Pedro Strop’s two scoreless innings for the win and Jim Johnson’s perfect 13th for the save.
Johnson had just blown Game 3’s save by allowing a homer to Raul Ibanez in the ninth. He also gave up four runs – including a Russell Martin homer – in the ninth in Game 1. He admitted he badly wanted the ball as soon as possible.
“Yeah, it was the same response from Game 1 to Game 2. You want the ball right away,” Johnson said. “You want to be able to come back right away for your teammates. And, obviously, that’s the way this game usually works out, just like that.”
Johnson led the majors in saves with 51. He blew just three opportunities during the regular season. He was about as lockdown as any Orioles closer in recent memory – certainly since Randy Myers.
So he had the trust of his teammates and his manager. And, I’d assume, the majority of the fans. But after two rough outings in his past three, I’m sure it was a relief for many that he came back so strong Thursday.
Johnson was bothered by the less-than-perfect outings, too. But he’s shown he can move on during the regular season. And he has proved it twice more in the postseason.
“Obviously, it bothers you for a little bit because that’s human nature. But … I am never going to beat up myself too bad because I know I’ve put the effort forward. I’ve put the work in,” he said. “Everything I’ve put into it, I left it all out there. So I can’t be upset if I make a bad pitch because I’ve done everything I can except for maybe I’ve made a mistake. So I can’t beat myself up for mistakes. I mean, nobody’s perfect. So you trust everything that you do. And then the next day you come back out and trust yourself again.”
Strop has said all along that he has confidence, too. But he struggled as the season ended and hadn’t pitched at all in the postseason. In fact, he hadn’t pitched a full inning since Sept. 24. He hadn’t gone two innings in one outing since May 6.
“It was extra innings. Everybody had to pitch,” Strop said. “Everyone was asking me, ‘Why are you not pitching?’ I was like, ‘We’re fine. I’m not pitching, but we’re fine.’ I don’t want to pay attention to why I’m not pitching. I just wanted to be ready for whatever situation there was for me to help the team.”
On Thursday, he was asked to pitch the 11th and 12th and responded tremendously in what was the first playoff appearance of his career. He faced seven batters and retired six, allowing only a Derek Jeter single up the middle.
Most important, he threw a first-pitch strike to five of the seven hitters he faced. That is huge for Strop, whose problems can be directly linked to his lack of command. But that wasn’t the case Thursday. He threw 16 of his 23 pitches for strikes.
“Because I was struggling, (Orioles manager Buck Showalter) didn’t have the flexibility to use me in those kinds of games,” Strop said. “Now I showed I can help and was just ready for the situation.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times