Slumping Johnson comes through with homer
Nick Johnson has a knack for making his hits count. That's important, because he hasn't had many lately.
NEW YORK -- Nick Johnson has a knack for making his hits count. That's important, because he hasn't had many lately.
"It's very exciting. It's a great feeling," Johnson said.
The Yankees managed only three hits in a 5-2 loss in Game 1 and quickly fell behind Derek Lowe and the Red Sox 1-0 in this one.
But with a runner on and one out in the second inning, the soft-spoken Johnson jumped all over an 0-1 pitch, sending it way over the right-field fence for the first postseason home run of his career.
It was only his second hit in 34 at-bats dating to the regular season, and he had been 2-for-14 lifetime against Lowe.
"I threw one cutter the whole game and it was the home run to Johnson," Lowe said. "It's a pitch I haven't used in a while. ... It was just a very poorly located pitch."
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and Johnson's uncle have talked to him about shortening his stance. Yankees manager Joe Torre also spoke with Johnson near the batting cage before the game.
"Just some non-baseball related stuff," Torre said. "Nick, I think he's everybody's favorite because he's got this dry sense of humor when you can get him to talk."
Johnson had New York's first hit of the night, and it seemed to spark the offense -- just in the Nick of time. Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui each added an RBI single, and Jorge Posada's two-run double made it 6-2 in the seventh.
"The big blow was Nick Johnson coming through with a home run," Posada said.
Johnson's only other hit in the playoffs was a key two-out, two-run double against the Minnesota Twins in Game 4 of the first round. It gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead, and they went on to an easy victory that clinched the series.
"They've been real big, but I just try to go in and work hard every day on my swing," Johnson said. "Whenever game time comes, just let it fly and see what happens."
Johnson has been sidelined by several injuries during his two full seasons in the major leagues, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming an important cog in New York's powerful lineup. He missed 61 games with a broken right hand this year and had an ice pack on his left wrist after the game.
Still, the sweet-swinging first baseman batted .284 with 14 home runs and 47 RBI this season. His best trait, however, is his patience at the plate. He walked 70 times in 96 games, giving him a team-leading .422 on-base percentage.
That's one of the reasons Torre likes to put him near the top of the lineup, so he will be on base for Jason Giambi, Williams and Posada.
Torre has moved Johnson down in the lineup most of the playoffs -- he batted seventh Thursday night -- because of his struggles. He doesn't seem to mind.
"I'm in there. I haven't been swinging the bat that well, but you've just got to keep battling and try to get on base for the other guys," Johnson said.
His hits have been few and far between lately, but they've certainly come at the right times.
"You've got a bat in your hands, you're dangerous when you go to the plate," Johnson said. "Just have confidence."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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