Jason Johnson certainly had to be feeling the pressure as he took the mound for the Red Sox last night in Miami. Pitching in his very first game for the Sox, Johnson was entrusted with the task of maintaining the team's 12-game winning streak, third best in club history.
The big question was if Johnson would be up to that task. After all, he'd just recently been released by the woeful Cleveland Indians, who were seven games under .500 and fifteen games out of first place when he was designated for assignment.
And before the first inning was over, Johnson proved that his 55-94 career record was no fluke.
Some of us had reason to speculate that maybe Johnson's pitiful career record was the result on having played on such poor teams, the sort that had never won more than 78 games in his career. Perhaps he was never given enough run support. But then there was his dismal 5.96 ERA this year, which was only marginally better than his career ERA of 4.95. Maybe all of his teams, in each of ten assorted seasons, played poor defense. Some of us were optimistic, hopeful even.
So much for the benefit of the doubt. After giving up more hits and runs than innings pitched -- six hits and five runs in just four innings -- the 32-year-old Johnson reminded us that he should probably be in the minors, or perhaps thinking about the next phase of his life.
Right now, Johnson probably feels horrible. This was not a good way to introduce himself to his teammates, or the fans. But though he was facing the challenging task of maintaining the team's winning streak, taking the mound for this particular Red Sox team would be an ideal scenario for any pitcher. Though they lost to the Marlins tonight, the Sox set a new Major League record with their 17th straight errorless game. The Sox infield plays the kind of smooth, seamless defense that most pitchers can only dream of.
But Johnson couldn't take advantage of it, giving up three runs in the first and two more in the second, digging himself a big hole in the process. It was one that he, and the rest of the team, could never get out of. The big righty's command was entirely lacking; he hit two batters and uncorked a wild pitch that resulted in a run.
It was the wrong night for such a meltdown, as Johnson came up against a premiere young lefty and was completely overmatched by him. Dontrelle Willis yielded just two runs in seven strong innings. The D-Train gave up seven hits, while striking out seven, en route to his fifth win of the season. The Marlins' offseason fire sale has certainly hurt the record of last year's 22 game winner.
Johnson had a difficult time just recording outs; eight of the first eleven batters he faced reached base, and five of them scored. It should have been little surprise to anyone, including Theo Epstein. Tonight's loss was the fifth straight for Johnson, and the 11th in his last 12 outings. That's pathetic.
The large contingent of Red Sox Nation on hand -- resulting in the Marlins largest home crowd this year (32,194) -- let Johnson hear their displeasure. It'll be ugly if he has another outing like that at Fenway.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Many were wondering why Kyle Snyder, after his sharp performance at Fenway just twelve days ago, wasn't given the start. In five innings of work against the Nationals, the 6'8" Snyder had a career-high six strikeouts and allowed three runs on just four hits. Hopefully he'll be recalled from Pawtucket where he pitched effectively again this week.
It isn't that Johnson, and the Red Sox, lost and that a fantastic winning streak was broken. All streaks eventually have to end, as will this remarkable record-setting errorless streak. The problem was the futility with which Johnson pitched, how little control or confidence he displayed, and that he couldn't even keep his team in the game. He simply wasn't competitive tonight, and that won't inspire confidence in anyone else either.
Ultimately, Johnson came as advertised, and his ERA and record didn't lie. No one should feel deceived or let down. He did the best he could, as I'm sure he always has, but that just isn't good enough for a team hoping to reclaim a post-season birth and a World Series championship.
I never thought I'd long for Matt Clement so much. Get well soon, Matt.
Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.