Johnson haunts Red Sox, lifts Rays in 10
With walk-off blast, Tampa Bay remains tied atop AL East
ST. PETERSBURG -- Incredibly, Dan Johnson did it again.
The man who hit what many feel is the biggest home run in Rays history added to the legend Saturday night with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning to give the Rays a 3-2 win over the Red Sox at Tropicana Field before a sellout crowd of 36,973.
By winning, the Rays (79-50) remained tied for first place in the American League East with the Yankees, who defeated the White Sox, 12-9. Meanwhile, the Red Sox (74-56) fell 5 1/2 games behind the leaders.
Johnson led off the bottom of the 10th against Boston right-hander Scott Atchison. At that point of the game, he carried an 0-for-3 into the at-bat with two strikeouts. If he dared look at the scoreboard, .149 stared back at him for his batting average.
The count stood at 2-2 when Johnson swung at a fastball and sent a well-struck, arching shot into the right-field stands to set off a celebration at home plate and rekindle memories of the Rays' special 2008 season.
"I was like, 'Please get out, please get out,'" Johnson said. "After it did, I was just relieved, I would say, because it was a rough night tonight. For that ball to get up and out for me, that was real big for me."
Johnson's memorable blast in 2008 came at Fenway Park after he had just been called up from Triple-A Durham on Sept. 9. Travel had prevented him from arriving to the ballpark on time and he got thrust into a pennant race in the ninth inning when he pinch-hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
The Rays had lost six of seven and were three outs away from turning over first place to the Red Sox. In addition, Tampa Bay was 0-7 at Fenway Park at that point of the season and Johnson was 0-for-15 as a big league pinch-hitter. After Johnson's homer tied the score, Tampa Bay went on to win the game, and the rest is history.
"I've just been fortunate enough to be in these situations, to get the opportunity to go up there and succeed," said Johnson, noting that it was a coincidence that both home runs came against the Red Sox.
Saturday night's game had a playoff feel in the way runs were hard to come by. A lot had to go right for Tampa Bay in order for Johnson's heroics to come to fruition.
A pitching duel took place between two of the best right-handers in the AL, with Matt Garza going for the Rays and Clay Buchholz for the Red Sox.
Boston scratched out a run against Garza on Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly in the fourth. That would be the only blemish on a scoreboard full of goose eggs as the game progressed into the seventh.
Buchholz hadn't allowed a hit through 3 1/3 innings when Evan Longoria came up with an infield hit to deep shortstop. Along the way, Buchholz got some help in the field from Ryan Kalish when B.J. Upton hit a deep drive to right-center field with two outs in the second. The Red Sox center fielder gave chase and dove to his left to make a back-handed stab of the drive before finishing with a somersault that would have made any 12-year-old gymnast jealous.
Upton returned the favor by tracking down a deep drive hit to left-center by Daniel Nava with one out in the seventh. Along the way, Upton swallowed expansive stretches of Tropicana Field's artificial surface before backhanding the drive on the warning track.
The Red Sox's one run looked like 100 the way Buchholz was pitching, as he extended his streak of scoreless innings to 26 going into the seventh, when he orchestrated his own undoing.
After Carlos Pena reached on a fielder's choice, Buchholz tried to pick him off and his throw sailed past first baseman Mike Lowell into the Rays' bullpen along the right-field line. By the time the Red Sox retrieved the ball, Pena stood on third with one out.
Matt Joyce followed by hitting a high fly into foul territory in right field. Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew ran a long way to make the catch, but wasn't able to finish off the play, allowing Pena to race home with the tying run.
"For some reason, that thing stuck in my glove," Drew said. "I had every intention of letting it drop and it was just instinct. I put the glove out right at the last second right as I saw the ball coming down and it ended up in there."
Garza, who allowed just one run in seven innings, gave way to Joaquin Benoit, who started the eighth and retired the first two hitters he faced before Victor Martinez hit a solo home run into the right-field stands for a 2-1 Boston lead. Based on the way Buchholz was pitching, that appeared to be enough of a lead.
Upton had other ideas leading off the eighth, when he hit a 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands to tie the game at 2.
"The pitch was pretty good that B.J. hit out," Buchholz said. "I was committed to throwing a curveball there, I don't think I've thrown him one any time before that previously, so it was the first one he had seen all night and he caught it, so it is what it is."
Rafael Soriano and Chad Qualls followed Benoit to keep the Red Sox at bay before Randy Choate retired David Ortiz on a fly out to left to end the 10th, thereby earning him his fourth win of the season.
"What a wonderful game," marveled Rays manager Joe Maddon. "If you're a baseball fan, how could you not enjoy that game?"
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.