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Johnson's heroics lift Rays over Boston in extra innings

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:04 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

By now you would think the Boston Red Sox would know better when it comes to pitching to Dan Johnson in the late innings of a game in the middle of a playoff chase.

They got burned once in September 2008.

They got burned again Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter hit a fastball from Scott Atchison into the right field seats in the 10th inning to give the Rays a 3-2 win in front of 36,973 - the fifth sellout this year at Tropicana Field.

"In the year 2100, they'll be talking about Dan Johnson, what he did against the Red Sox in '08 and now '10," Maddon said. "It's something. He has not been a regular player. Been in the big leagues, battled (in the minors), got back. Now he's had two of our biggest hits."

Two of the Rays biggest hits ever.

And both came against the Red Sox.

"I've been fortunate enough to get in these situations and the chance to be able to go up there and have the opportunity to succeed. It's a coincidence that it's the Red Sox," Johnson said. "But both have come against them."

Johnson has hit four big league home runs since September 2008 - three have come against the Red Sox.

Is it time for "Danny 'Bleeping' Johnson" in New England?

It was Johnson's pinch-hit home run off Jonathon Papelbon on Sept. 9, 2008 at Fenway Park that tied the score in the ninth inning and started a come-from-behind win that kept the Rays in first place.

It was his home run Saturday that enabled the Rays to remain tied with the Yankees for first place in the American League East and dropped the Red Sox to 5 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings.

"It's whatever," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Johnson's clutch hitting against his team. "I don't care who hits it. It hurts either way."

Johnson had a chance to inflict similar damage upon the Red Sox on Friday when he faced Papelbon in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter representing the tying run. Papelbon was careful and walked Johnson as he successfully closed out the 3-1 victory.

On Saturday Johnson found himself leading off the bottom of the 10th in what was largely a dual between starters Matt Garza and Clay Buchholz and then the respective bullpens.

The Rays scored twice off Buchholz, though one run was earned - B.J. Upton's eighth inning homer that tied the score at 2-2.

Boston catcher Victor Martinez, who owns Rays pitching with a .425 lifetime batting average at the Trop, drilled a two-out home run into the right field seats off Joaquin Benoit to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth. Martinez has three home runs during the first two games of this series.

Martinez, who had four hits, has a career .381 batting average against the Rays with seven home runs. That's the highest batting average against the Rays by an opposing batter. His average at the Trop is tops by any batter with at least 100 at-bats inside the dome. Also, every one of those seven home runs were hit at the Trop.

He has driven in three of the Red Sox five runs this series and scored four of the five.

But Upton stole whatever momentum Martinez created when he drove Buchholz's second pitch of the inning into the left field seats for his 13th home run of the season.

"Buchholz really had it going on," Maddon said. "For B.J. to do that and tie the game, after Victor had done that, B.J. homer was a big moment for us."

But not the biggest.

That belonged to the struggling designated hitter who fills in at first base and in the outfield, a role Maddon described on Friday that will be filled by the newly acquired Brad Hawpe after Hawpe gets a few at-bats with Class A Charlotte.

"The moment was special for me after having such a rough night and having to redeem myself with the quote-unquoate day saver," Johnson said. "Obviously it worked out in my favor."

Johnson was released by the Rays after the '08 season and spent '09 playing in Japan. He signed a major league contact with the Rays in the offseason, didn't make the team out of spring training and accepted an assignment to Triple A Durham after clearing waivers.

This summer Johnson became one of the top power hitters in all of minor league baseball. At the time of his promotion back to the Rays, he was leading the International League with 30 home runs and all of minor league baseball with 95 RBIs.

But he hasn't come close to anything like that with the Rays, due mostly to not playing every day.

A .149 hitter, Johnson has a .368 on-base percentage because he's able to draw walks - 16 in 16 games. He was 2-for-35 when he came to the plate in the 10th inning, yet had reached base in 13 of his 15 previous games.

Then. BOOM.

"I was like, 'Please get out! Please get out!' " Johnson said. "After it did I was like just relieved I would say, because I had such a rough night and for that ball to get up and get out and win the game, it was real special for me."

Johnson was asked to compare the two home runs.

The first came on the day he was promoted to the Rays, but he arrived late at Fenway Park because of flight delays and rush hour traffic. He was supposed to be the DH that night but was scratched.

"Next thing you know I was leading off the ninth inning," he said. "I was like holy cow. Deer in the headlights."

And this home run?

"This one I've been here awhile," he said. "I have some at-bats underneath me and it's kind of time to contribute, and for me to be able to contribute now and hopefully (I'll) keep going with this and keep riding this wave and help this team win ball games."

When asked if Johnson's home run reminded him of 2008, Garza said, "A good memory."

Saturday's game had an awful lot of '08 in it. The Rays beat the Red Sox in a big game. They won in their last at-bat. The big hit came from an unlikely source.

"Déjà vu by D.J.," Maddon said. "That was an incredible moment for him based on what he has done in the past."

NOTEWORTHY

Garza pitched at least seven innings for this third straight start and fifth time in six starts .. Upton is batting .269 with 14 extra-base hits including five home runs, this month . Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly in the seventh inning snapped Buchholz's 26-inning scoreless streak. It was the longest scoreless streak by an AL pitcher this season and the longest in the AL since Cliff Lee's 27 consecutive inning scoreless streak in 2008. Buchholz is 1-1 with a 0.98 ERA in three starts against the Rays this season . The Rays victory marked the first time in the last 19 games between these two teams that the winning team wasn't the team that scored first . It was the Rays fifth walk-off win this season . The rays lead the season series 9-5 . Johnson's home run was the first run allowed by the Red Sox bullpen since Aug. 20, a stretch of 16 2/3 innings.

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