Tampa Bay Rays
Johnson's hot bat ignites Rays' victory
ST. PETERSBURG Memorial Day proved to be a memorable afternoon for Rays outfielder Kelly Johnson.
How good were things going for Johnson on Monday?
How about seeing a routine pop up just behind the pitchers? mound go into the box score as a double. Or swiping third base moments later as Evan Longoria was being intentionally walked.
Oh, and there were those pair of three-run home runs Johnson belted to tie a career-high with six RBI in Tampa Bay's 10-6 victory against the Miami Marlins (13-38) in front of an announced crowd of 13,025 at Tropicana Field while becoming the first player in Rays franchise history to record two, three-run (or more) home runs in the same game.
Johnson finished the day with a career-high tying four hits and was a triple shy of the cycle when he hit his second home run of the day in the bottom of the eighth to give the Rays (26-24) some necessary insurance after nearly seeing a six-run lead slip away.
"We can't score early and put it in cruise control," Johnson said. "We've just got to keep plugging away, keep trying to score as many runs as possible."
Johnson was a big part of the Rays scoring the runs they did on Monday, capping off a six-run second inning by belting 399-foot home run to right-center field to spoil the home town debut for Miami rookie Jose Fernandez (2-3), a product of Tampa's Alonso High, who suffered the worst outing in his 10th career start. The home run for Johnson came one inning after Fernandez struck him out.
But the way Johnson has been seeing the ball this month, it didn't matter who was on the mound or what kind of stuff Fernandez possessed. Since April 27 Johnson is hitting .365 (31-for-85) with a .396 on base percentage, seven home runs and 26 RBI while recording five 3-hit games in that same span. His 24 RBI in May are the most he has recorded in a calendar month in his career.
"I feel good and I feel confident," Johnson said of his approach at the plate right now. "That's important to me. I think you're always searching for something that's going to let you feel confident and you try to just roll with it. It can be different daily, weekly, it's just the way baseball is. You're not going to sit here and analyze it and try to figure it out. But I do feel confident and that's the best thing you can do is not try to go too hard, try to be too big and hit the ball too hard. Just enjoy it."
Tampa Bay built a six-run lead in the second after Fernandez loaded the bases to start the inning with two walks and a hit batsman. Jose Molina followed with a sacrifice fly, Yunel Escobar singled in the second run and a third came home on Ben Zobrist's attempted bunt that was botched by catcher Rob Brantly on a throw to second.
The Marlins started to chip away off starter Jake Odorizzi with three runs in the fourth and, after Tampa Bay went up 7-3 in the bottom half, another three runs in the fifth that chased Odorizzi before the bullpen came in to shut Miami down in the final five innings, retiring 12 of the final 14 Miami hitters, led by a two-scoreless innings from Jake McGee (2-2).
But it was Johnson who led the charge, early and late, on a day to remember.
"Kelly drove the offensive engine today, those (home run) balls were properly struck twice," manager Joe Maddon said.