Tigers reliever Jim Johnson wins marathon within a marathon

By Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Jim Johnson wondered if he was part of a showdown that began Tuesday and ended Wednesday.

“I haven’t had many at-bats like that one,” said Johnson, the Tigers right-handed reliever who was signed only two weeks ago.

It was a marathon, all right. Thirteen pitches. One foul after another foul. One good sinker and breaking pitch followed by some more.

And, still, Rays batter Jose Molina kept it going in the 10th inning of Tuesday’s game at Tropicana Field. With two on and two out, Molina threatened to end a wild Tigers-Rays game an inning before Detroit scored three times to finally win, 8-6.

The 10th inning showdown was an almost comically tense duel between Johnson, a right-handed reliever and Molina, who was at bat with two on and two out in a game tied, 5-5.

“He just kept fighting them off,” Johnson said of Molina, whom he finally put away with a curveball for a called third strike.

Johnson was throwing four-seam fastballs that hit 95 mph and sinking two-seamers that Molina kept rapping into the dirt, foul. He mixed in a good curveball and, if one hadn’t known the problems he had last year in Baltimore and earlier this season with the A’s, they might have shrugged and concluded this was the Jim Johnson of earlier, more lustrous days with the Orioles.

“It feels like it,” Johnson said, when asked if he felt as if his old repertoire had returned. “When I was at Toledo (Triple A) I felt like that last outing was good.

“And even Sunday (two unearned runs because of an outfield error), although my numbers might not have been the best, I thought my stuff was crisp.”

Johnson, 31, is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and was a fifth-round pick by the Orioles in 2001. He was traded to the A’s last December in a deal that brought infielders Jemile Weeks and David Freitas to the Orioles.

Mad Max

It was probably wise not to have studied that linescore in grading Max Scherzer’s start against the Rays.

Four runs, all earned, in seven innings is not regarded as a trophy outing.

But deeper study might have suggested something else. It was one of Scherzer’s better outings, not only because he allowed but four hits in seven innings, while striking out nine. It was also because he forgot about the scoreboard and worked overtime to put the Tigers in position to win.

“At the end of the day, I felt I threw the ball well,” said Scherzer, who missed getting the victory when Joba Chamberlain couldn’t hold a 5-4 lead in the eighth.

Scherzer was even gratified by the two at-bats that most hurt him. He launched a low, boring fastball against James Loney in the first that Loney golfed down the line for a three-run homer.

He also got a mean fastball high in the zone against Ben Zobrist that Zobrist was able to slash for a RBI single to center.

“That pitch to Loney was a good pitch but a better swing,” Scherzer said, blaming himself for hitting Zobrist in the first, and walking Evan Longoria ahead of Loney’s blast. “And the same with Zobrist (second inning). He was able to get on top of that pitch.

“Good pitches and better swings.”