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Johnson, former Bulls help push Rays into playoffs

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By HAROLD GUTMANN

hgutmann@heraldsun.com; 419-6668

Three weeks ago, Dan Johnson and Russ Canzler combined to go 0-for-8 and Dane De La Rosa gave up two runs in the eighth inning as the Durham Bulls were swept by Columbus in the first round of the International League playoffs.

On Wednesday night, those players helped the Tampa Bay Rays complete the biggest September comeback in Major League Baseball history.

With the Rays down to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth against the Yankees, Johnson hit a tying homer off of another member of the 2011 Bulls, Cory Wade, in a game Tampa Bay went on to win 8-7 in 12 innings.

That victory, combined with the Boston’s 4-3 loss at Baltimore, meant the Rays had overcome a nine-game September deficit to earn the American League wild card.

“Down to the last strike and it happened,” Johnson told the Tampa Tribune. “I can’t explain it, and I’m not going to try to. I’m just going to go with it.

“You can’t script this any better. This feels great.”

In all, there were eight Rays in Wednesday night’s game who saw significant time in Durham. De La Rosa, Brandon Gomes and winning pitcher Jake McGee combined to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings, Desmond Jennings started in center field, and Brandon Guyer, Jose Lobaton, Johnson and Canzler were used as substitutes.

Most of those players were called up earlier in Tampa’s playoff push, while Johnson remained in Durham. Even after Johnson was promoted two weeks ago, he was hitless in just five at-bats.

But the 31-year-old has a flair for dramatic homers, a memory that stayed with Rays management.

“You know, it’s funny; I flashed back to a couple of weeks ago when we talked about bringing Dan Johnson up,” Rays general manager Andrew Friedman told MLB.com. “And obviously, he’s gotten some big hits for us in the past. And we were just hoping to recreate that moment and how he’s prone to find himself in those moments. And obviously he did, and I can’t say enough about how big it was.”

Johnson’s first career Major League homer came in the middle of a pennant race in September 2008, when he tied the game with a homer off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.

“For some reason, in those situations, I get real comfortable,” Johnson told MLB.com. “I feel like I see the ball real well and I’m real confident about what’s going to happen.”

Interestingly enough, Wednesday night’s victim was Wade, who started the season with the Bulls and went 3-1 with a 1.17 ERA before opting out of his contract in June to join the Yankees.

The Rays next will face Texas, the AL West champions, in a best-of-5 Divisional Series beginning today (5:07 p.m., TBS).

Article source: HeraldSun - Durham Bulls

 
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