10/09/2003 10:36 PM ET
Johnson's swing ignites the Bronx
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
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NEW YORK -- Nick Johnson's September wasn't exactly one to remember, but he's making up for it in a hurry.
Before Thursday's Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, Yankees manager Joe Torre turned slightly prophetic when talking about his first baseman.
"He's swinging the bat a lot better," Torre said. "He's quieter at the plate and seems to be on the ball as opposed to behind it."
Johnson was anything but quiet with one out in the second inning of Thursday's game, slamming a pivotal two-run home run.
With Hideki Matsui on first base, Johnson got a hanging cutter from Boston starter Derek Lowe, gave it a ride into the second deck in right field, and changed the tone of the ALCS in the process.
"That was huge," Yankees shortsop Derek Jeter said. "It gave us the first lead in the series and was a huge boost for us offensively. We needed it."
It also gave the Yankees much-needed momentum after losing Game 1 and it gave the silenced Yankee Stadium crowd life for the first time in the series.
And it was a very welcome departure from the offensive funk Johnson fell into in the last week of September and carried over into October.
Johnson went hitless in his last 17 at-bats in the regular season and saw his batting average plummet from .305 to .284. He had one home run in 22 games since Sept. 11.
In the Yankees' AL Division Series win over the Minnesota Twins, Johnson went 1-for-13, although his one hit was a big two-run single in the Yankees' 8-1 series clincher in the Metrodome.
Johnson moved back into 0-for-ville with a hitless night in three at-bats against Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and the Boston bullpen in Game 1 of the ALCS, but with one quick swing Thursday, he might have righted himself.
According to Johnson, the slump wasn't a big deal and the homer wasn't really a big deal, either.
"I just had to take each at-bat and put it behind me, move on, and try to get my swing right," Johnson said. "I got a good pitch to hit."
But as understated as Johnson wanted to be, Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone and designated hitter Jason Giambi didn't hesitate to emphasize the importance of the home run.
Particularly for starter Andy Pettitte, who gave up six hits in the first two innings but ended up surrendering two runs in 6 2/3.
"He gave us the lead and Andy took it from there," Boone said.
"It was great," Giambi said. "It gave us a lift and Andy settled in and did what he always does."
According to Jeter, what Johnson always does is what he hasn't done much of lately.
"Nick can hit," Jeter said. "We all know that. He doesn't swing at many bad pitches and he puts the ball in play.
"Nothing he does offensively surprises me."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.