Memories of opening day: the moment Jim Johnson lost A fans in 17 pitches

<pre><pre>Memories of opening day: the moment Jim Johnson lost A fans in 17 pitches

Jim Johnson entered 2014 as the new closer for an A team with consecutive division titles and abundant reasons for optimism.

He had amassed 101 saves and shot a 2.72 ERA in the previous two seasons with the Orioles. He joined a franchise with a long tradition of ninth inning pitchers to find the best ways for their careers.

Johnson lost the Oakland fan base on 17 pitches in a home loss that opened the season against the Indians.

His collapse sparked rare boos from a generally sympathetic crowd at the Colosseum and sent him into a strange bite from which he would never fully recover. It was probably the strangest opening day view I have ever experienced.

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Perhaps fans should have seen Johnson's struggles coming. His last spring display was shaky: he gave up three hits and one run on 20 ninth-inning pitches against the Giants. There was nothing comfortable on the mound in that competition.

But his effort in San Francisco was low risk. Given his track record, the expectation was that he would recover quickly.

However, Johnson immediately struggled in his regular season debut against the Indians, and the mood in Oakland changed against him.

After entering a scoreless game in the ninth inning, he threw five of his first six pitches out of the strike zone. His seventh pitch was thrown to right field by David Murphy to put runners in corners with no outs. That was when the crowd started complaining. The boos scattered when Johnson hit the next hitter.

A sacrifice fly and a straight RBI led manager Bob Melvin to remove Johnson from the contest.

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While the outing was certainly bad, it was somewhat surprising to hear such an angry reception for Johnson considering how good the Athletics had been the past two seasons and how rare it is for fans in Oakland to turn the club on. The loss shouldn't have come as a shock: it marked the 10th consecutive season opener loss for the Athletics.

He tried to stay positive after the poor performance.

"He would have also booed me," Johnson told reporters afterward. "It sucked tonight. I deserved it. Next time they're probably cheering me on."

They weren't cheering next time. In his second outing at home, which came two days later, Johnson came in with a 4-3 lead and walked away with a saved save, having given up three runs on three hits and two walks.

There were few quiet stretches for Johnson in green and gold. When the Athletics finally cut him in July, he had allowed at least two runs in nine different appearances. Its effectiveness was 7.14.

He posted a 6.92 ERA the rest of the season with the Tigers, then rebounded between the Braves, Dodgers and Los Angeles. It never came close to the quality it offered Baltimore.

Distress launchers are always susceptible to sudden drops in performance level. Few implode like Johnson in early 2014.



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