Once again, Johnson’s pinch leaves a mark

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / August 29, 2010

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Bucky Dent will forever reign supreme as the most unlikely villains in Red Sox history, his home run in the 1978 one-game playoff for the Yankees was that significant.

But Dan Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays has assured himself of not being welcome in New England any time soon.

Johnson did it to the Red Sox again last night, his solo home run to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning giving Tampa Bay a 3-2 victory. On a night when the Red Sox seemed poised to gain more ground in the pennant race, Johnson delivered what could be a fatal blow to their chances.

Facing Scott Atchison, Johnson fell behind 1-and-2 before getting the count even and lining a fastball into the seats in right field.

It was a shot reminiscent of the one Johnson hit Sept. 9, 2008 at Fenway Park against Jonathan Papelbon. With the Rays trailing, 4-3, Johnson drilled a ball deep to right field to lead off the top of the ninth inning. The Rays scored another run in the inning for a 5-4 victory and kept them in first place.

Johnson had been called up from the minor leagues earlier that day.

Tampa Bay held on to that lead, clinched home-field advantage and went on to beat the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Last night’s home run allowed the Rays to stay tied for first place with the Yankees in the division. But it could prove more damaging to the third-place Red Sox, who now are 5 1/2 games out with 31 games to play.

“It’s just awesome that he was able to do that again,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That was a really intense, well-played game.’’

Johnson, 31, spent most of this season in the minors before being called up Aug 2. The home run was only his second of the season. He was hitting .130 with seven RBIs as he came to the plate, having struck out twice and grounded back to the mound earlier in the game.

“I was just thinking about getting on base,’’ Johnson said. “After having such a rough night, it was a chance to redeem myself. Obviously it worked out for me.’’

Johnson had faced Atchison only once in his career, that coming in 2005. He did not go up to the plate with any particular plan other than to try and get on base. When Johnson connected, he ran down the first base line watching the ball.

“I was saying, ‘Please get out, please get out.’ I was just relieved,’’ he said.

Johnson was mobbed by his teammates and got the requisite shaving-cream pie in the face as he conducted a television interview.

“I think it’s just a coincidence that I have come up in those situations against [the Red Sox],’’ he said. “It’s great to be able to succeed. I’d like to think I could do it against any team. But it just so happens to be against the Red Sox.’’

Until the late innings, the Rays appeared headed for their third straight loss. Trailing, 1-0, they had scored one run over the first 15 innings of the series when Evan Longoria singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. Carlos Pena then grounded into a force play.

With Pena at first, Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz threw over to the base three times on orders from the coaching staff. The third pickoff attempt went wild and rolled into foul territory. Pena ended up on third base.

Trying to keep Pena close seemed unnecessary, since his last stolen base was July 23 and he is playing with a sore right foot that caused him to miss 14 games this month.

“I don’t blame them for that because we try a lot of things with our running game,’’ Maddon said. “We were trying to make something happen there and we did.’’

A sacrifice fly by Matt Joyce tied the score.

The Red Sox went up, 2-1, on a home run by Victor Martinez in the top of the eighth but B.J. Upton came back with a home run off Buchholz in the bottom of the inning.

“We just kept coming back against them,’’ Johnson said. “That’s a huge win for us.’’

Now the Rays will turn to righthander James Shields to try and take the series. Shields is 12-11 with a 4.76 earned run average and has allowed 29 home runs, the most in the American League. He has a 5.03 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox.

“If you’re a baseball fan, you have to like this series,’’ Maddon said. “I like it a lot more tonight because we won.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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