Johnson, on the other hand, did something April 16 that no one had ever done before in the history of Double-A Portland—and, quite possibly, something that no Red Sox farmhand had ever done anywhere.
Johnson began the game against Connecticut in left field, went to the pitcher’s mound in the 16th inning and threw two shutout innings before he turned himself into the winning pitcher by lacing an RBI double in the bottom of the 17th to lift the Sea Dogs to an 8-7 win over Connecticut. It was the longest game in Sea Dogs history and the first time in the 15-year history of the franchise a position player earned the victory.
Since 2005, only three minor league position players have won a game in which they recorded an RBI. Johnson is the only one to collect the game-winning RBI.
“When it’s going on, you don’t realize what’s going on,” Johnson said Tuesday, one day after his season ended due to a torn Achilles tendon. “Then all of a sudden good things start to happen. It’s like, wow. It happens before you even have time to think about it and look back on it. It’s really cool to think about. But while it’s happening, it’s just something you don’t really think about.”
Taking the mound itself was no big deal for Johnson, who prides himself on his versatility and athleticism. He played all three outfield positions for the Sea Dogs last year, batted everywhere from second to sixth in the lineup and can more than hold his own in pickup basketball as well as on the golf course.
Johnson also pitched in high school and during his freshman year of college—he was part of a combined no-hitter at Xavier University—before he added pitching to his professional resume last year, when, coincidentally, he mopped up against Connecticut July 28 and allowed one run on two hits and one walk in one inning of a 15-0 loss.
“That’s always something I’ve really been proud of—be versatile, play all three outfield positions, be able to hit anywhere in the lineup,” Johnson said. “I don’t have the skills that stand out more than the rest. I do everything pretty well, and to have that pitching aspect of it thrown in there a little bit, I think that’s good.”
Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler was impressed with Johnson’s mound cameo last year and told him prior to this season that he’d once again be the choice if the Sea Dogs ever needed a position player to pitch.
So come the 15th inning against Connecticut, with the Sea Dogs bullpen empty, Beyeler told Johnson to get ready. Johnson, who added a knuckleball to his repertoire after last year’s mound cameo, retired Connecticut in order in the 16th—and struck out two batters in the process—before he ran into trouble in the 17th, when he sandwiched another strikeout around a double and a single. After an intentional walk, Johnson induced a double play grounder.
“He said he learned a lot from throwing last year, when he just tried to throw hard,” Beyeler said. “This year, he tried to throw strikes [with] a little run, a little sink. He came up with a little knuckleball that he toys with.
“You’re usually in a situation where you’re getting blown out and the hitter has nothing to gain when they’re facing a position layer and vice versa,” Beyeler said. “You give up hits, it’s expected. He did a fantastic job.”
Johnson ended up victimizing a fellow position player in the bottom of the 17th. Simon Klink, who started at third base for Connecticut, moved to the mound and gave up a leadoff single to Jeff Corsaletti, who opened the game at designated hitter and replaced Johnson in left field.
Johnson promptly doubled to right field and Corsaletti scored easily to end the marathon. Had the Sea Dogs not won it in the 17th, Johnson would have pitched at least one more inning.
“Position players never win a game, because they usually don’t get to pitch when it means anything,” Beyeler said. “That was pretty special. I’d be willing to bet there’s not a lot of guys that have seen a position player win a game. I’ve never seen it happen before.”
And while it wasn’t something Johnson ever imagined he’d accomplish, it’s something he’ll never forget, either. “Sure, it’s cool,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I’d rather hit, like, four home runs in a game, but it was a fun experience. It was a lot of fun.
“As I kept telling everybody, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field and it helped us win a game. So heck, it’s good.”
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.