Sealing a 2-1 Baltimore victory and earning his 22nd save Sunday against the Washington Nationals, Jim Johnson took sole possession of second place in saves behind Chris Perez from Cleveland, who has 23 saves. In the process, Johnson has given Oriole fans hope at the end of games.
Johnson earned his 22nd save in Baltimore’s first 72 games, putting him on pace for 49 this year. That number would have been more had Johnson not spent time in the hospital towards the end of April. For the season, JJ is 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA to go along with those 22 saves. Oddly enough, he has more saves than strikeouts (20 punch outs to 22 saves), but whatever gets the job done, and Buck Showalter always prefers substance to flash.
Johnson’s hot start got me thinking. When was the last time Baltimore had a closer with at least 40 saves? Randy Myers pulled that off in 1997, saving 45 games. Wait, what else happened that year? Oh yeah, they made the playoffs.
Johnson’s 22 saves already tie the team’s high mark of 2011, which was accomplished by Kevin Gregg (although Johnson has earned his with much less stress). The last Oriole closer to hit 30 saves was George Sherrill back in 2008. Sherrill had 31.
What I find amusing and what keeps me watching baseball is the element of surprise. Baltimore brought in Mike Gonzalez in 2010 to be their closer, and we all know how that experiment turned out. They then went after Gregg during the 2011 offseason, and, although he did lead the team with those 22 saves last year, his high wire act wore thin, and now he’s just another arm in the pen. Baltimore already had their closer, they just didn’t know it yet.
Johnson has been their setup man for a few seasons now, but has shown his worth as the closer they have been looking for all along. What makes matters even more interesting is that Baltimore had tinkered with the idea of making Johnson a starter as recent as this past offseason. Good thing they left him in the pen!
If Baltimore has any chance to make the playoffs, they will need Johnson to keep shutting teams down at the end of games, something he has done with ease this year.
by Andy Mindzak