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If you’ve ever happened to be on Twitter after your favorite team’s closer blows a save, odds are you’ll see fans upset about the proceedings that are unfolding on their television. Not that this is wrong; in fact, part of the awesomeness of social media is the ability to connect with fans that you otherwise would not have been able to. But social media also combines fans’ raw emotions with the never-ending search for why something on the field happened the way it did. (The bullpen has been used too much. That’s why Jim Johnson blew this save! His release point is off! FIRE SOMEONE IMMEDIATELY!”) However, when you’re dealing with tiny sample sizes in baseball, it’s mostly futile to search for reasons why something happened. Sometimes, baseball happens. Let’s look at Jim Johnson’s outing on Saturday evening in which he allowed five runs, three hits (one homer) and two walks in one-third of an inning.
His outing began just like so many of his other outings have: a power two-seamer resulting in a weak groundout. Below, you’ll see where a two-seamer on a 1-2 count ends up: directly on the outside corner to Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Luke Scott. Scott goes after what looks to be a perfect 90-mph sinker from Johnson:
Scott rolled over on the pitch for an easy four to three put-out for the Orioles. That would be the only out Johnson would record with the 32 pitches he threw. The next hitter was Kelly Johnson, who played left field for Joe Maddon on Saturday. Kelly Johnson worked the count to 3-1, and deposited a 93-mph pitch right on the outside corner into the left field seats:
The pitch is probably a little higher than Jim Johnson wanted it, but it’s by no means a terrible pitch — it’s not as if Jim Johnson split the plate with it. Give Kelly Johnson credit; he got two-seamer he was likely looking for, extended his arms and powered a pitch on the outside corner into the left field bleachers. That’s good stuff.
Given the homer, Johnson’s room for error was thin. Johnson walked the next two batters — noted offensive powerhouses Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar — and most of the balls weren’t particularly close to being strikes. Every reliever has outings in which he battles his command and control, but it’s magnified when it occurs with the closer in the ninth inning of a close game. Again, every pitcher battles command and control at different points during a season — even the pitchers like Johnson whose success is partly attributed to his ability to pound the bottom half of the strike zone.
The next hitter was Desmond Jennings. Johnson got behind 2-0 to him, and after a visit by pitching coach Rick Adair, the count evened at 2-2. Jennings got a 94-mph fastball up and in (probably a little off the inside corner and a little high) that he hit near the label of his bat:
Jennings’ bat exploded, and the ball landed between shortstop J.J. Hardy and left fielder Nate McLouth. As far as two-strike pitches go, you can do a lot worse than this one. Give Jennings credit for getting his bat on a two-strike pitch that was close to a borderline offering and serving it into left field.
The next hitter was Matt Joyce, who would be the final hitter Johnson would face on this day. Johnson was looking for a strikeout, pop-up or double play. A deep flyball, walk or infield hit ties the score. Any base hit to the outfield likely gives the Rays the lead. Joyce worked the count full and attacked Johnson’s 32nd and final pitch of the evening:
Joyce lined this pitch — a 95-mph sinker on the outside corner and perhaps a touch lower than Joyce’s kneecaps — over second baseman Ryan Flaherty’s head for a double. This is a similar pitch that Luke Scott rolled over on to begin the inning. Sometimes, you just get beat. Joyce is a really good hitter against right-handed pitching and just got the better of Johnson in this instance.
Next time Jim Johnson — or any closer, for that matter — blows a save, there probably isn’t a need to go crazy over it like I have — there are nearly 775 words here about one blown save. Sometimes, relievers have bad outings. (They just look worse when they occur in the ninth inning.) Sometimes, Kelly Johnson, Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce are a just little bit better on that day. Sometimes, baseball happens.
Luke Jackson was born and raised in the Baltimore area and currently lives in College Park, Md. Jackson is a May 2013 graduate from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in broadcast journalism. Luke was the programming director at WMUC Sports and broadcasted Maryland football, basketball and baseball, among other sports.