Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Elliot Johnson is Tampa Bay Rays' unlikely goat in loss to New York Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG — This was never the plan. Not in a game like this. Not with so much on the line.

Out of all the discussions the Rays might have had, out of all the contingencies they might have considered, he was never supposed to be the player committing a gaffe that might haunt a baseball team for some time to come.

He is Elliot Johnson, after all. Role player. Spare part. Afterthought. He was never supposed to be the player to break your heart.

Yet, there he was, hands on his hips, anguish on his face after his throwing error in the seventh inning allowed two runners to score in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night.

There for a second it looked like the Rays were going to get out of trouble. The infield was in, and the pitch was good, and the ground ball was routine. Johnson, the second baseman, double-clutched, then threw wildly to the third-base side of home plate. One run scored, then another, and an opportunity to move within a half-game of first in the AL East had been thrown away.

"That's the play that cost us the game," Johnson said later, the camera lights bouncing off the still-fresh scars on his face that came from running into a catcher in Friday night's game against Toronto. "You never want to be in that situation. You never want to be that guy. But I'm a grown man. I can handle this sort of stuff."

Yes, he kept saying, he should have made the play. No, he said, that he hadn't played much lately shouldn't have made a difference. Give him that, at least. For a long time, the 28-year-old stared into the questions and absorbed the blame.

"It's actually not as difficult a play as I made it seem," Johnson said. "The only thing that made it difficult was time. I know Ichiro (Suzuki, who scored the first run from third). I didn't think I could take my time and make a throw (to get him at home). I had to get it to (catcher Jose Lobaton) as quickly as possible, and it was offline. I've seen the replays enough. It was a bad throw."

It was a bad moment, too, for a player who has been more than anyone had a right to expect. For much of the season, Johnson has been a tough out, and until early June, he was a solid defender. As the season has gone along, however, Johnson's glove has become a little shakier. Going into Wednesday night's game, Johnson had committed 10 errors in the team's previous 67 games.

So, yeah, you can blame Johnson for a lousy throw. Certainly, a major-league infielder should be able to make an accurate throw home from the infield grass.

On the other hand, why was Johnson out there to begin with? After all, Johnson had started only seven games of the previous 28. It was his first appearance at second base since May 11. Why dust him off and start him in a game as big as this one? Why put him in the middle of this kind of moment?

"I was trying to get as many left-handed bats in the lineup as I could," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I wanted to give Ryan Roberts a break. Elliot had been our starting shortstop for, what, a quarter of the season? He works hard. He plays hard. He cares. He just made a mistake."

By Johnson's count, he made two. Johnson had a chance to make a catch on Derek Jeter's shallow popup to center to start the fourth, but the ball bounced out of his glove as centerfielder Sam Fuld approached. The Yankees went on to score three times in the inning.

"I should have made that play, too," Johnson said. "I feel bad that Matt Moore gave up those runs."

Yes, it happens. Still, this was a shame for the Rays. You can't help but wonder what sort of mental state a sweep would have left the Yankees in. As it was, New York was reduced to having before Wednesday's game the same sort of team meeting the common people have. What's next? A seance in which a medium conjures up images of the late George Steinbrenner, who would promptly yell at everyone?

Instead, the rich kids from the big city salvaged one game of the series. Just a thought here, but by the end of the season, that game might be a big one. The ones that get away often are.

Listen to Gary Shelton from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton.

Elliot Johnson walks back to second base after his seventh-inning throwing error allows what end up being the winning runs to score.

Associated Press

Elliot Johnson walks back to second base after his seventh-inning throwing error allows what end up being the winning runs to score.

Elliot Johnson is Tampa Bay Rays' unlikely goat in loss to New York Yankees 09/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:45am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays series preview: Who are the Pirates?


    After an off day Monday, the Rays head on the road to PNC Park for a three-game interleague series against the Pirates. Here's the information you need to know about Pittsburgh before the action kicks off.

    Record: 35-41, fourth in NL Central

    Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, left, has rebounded from a rough start, while fellow outfielder Gregory Polanco, right, has fallen off recently.
  2. Countryside alum A.J. Andrews lands in ESPN's annual body issue (w/video)


    A.J. Andrews has taken over the spotlight in softball. Last year, the former Countryside High and LSU standout became the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove in the award's 59-year existence.

    Former Countryside and LSU softball standout A.J. Andrews will be among 23 athletes to be featured in ESPN The Magazine's body issue. "I have a really ripped back," Andrews says while laughing in the video. [Photo from video]

  3. James Wilder Jr. back at running Canada


    Remember when former Plant High star and Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was switching to linebacker?

    That was short-lived, apparently.

  4. Cup-winning Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Dave Andreychuk's name has surfaced often the past eight years with the selection committee.

    30 Oct 2001:  Left wing Dave Andreychuk #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates towards the blue line during the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.  The Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 3-2.  Mandatory Credit:  Dave Sanford /Allsport
  5. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.