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Slumping Johnson comes through with homer

NEW YORK -- Nick Johnson has a knack for making his hits
count. That's important, because he hasn't had many lately.

Johnson was in a 1-for-33 skid when he hit a big two-run homer
Thursday night, and the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox
6-2 in Game 2 to even the best-of-seven AL championship series.

"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."