10/08/05 1:47 AM ET
Big innings big problem for Big Unit
Johnson struggles in shortest postseason start since 1995
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
With good reason, too. Thirteen times this year, New York crossed home plate at least a half-dozen times in a Johnson start, and 13 times the Yankees won.
They'd probably assume that they'd get more than three innings and change from Johnson, though. They didn't Friday night in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, and six runs weren't enough. Nor were seven.
Johnson gave up five runs on nine hits before leaving to a chorus of boos with nobody out in the fourth inning, and while the Yankees stormed back to take the lead in the fifth inning, the bullpen they didn't expect to need until much later in the game coughed that lead up.
The Angels' 11-7 victory put New York on the brink of elimination -- and put Johnson's struggles squarely into the spotlight.
"If I would have paid for a ticket to watch myself tonight, I probably would have booed myself, too," Johnson said.
One of the main reasons the Yankees so doggedly pursued a trade for Johnson over the winter was because they felt like they needed him to vanquish the rival Red Sox. And he helped do that, regular-season style, with a gem at Fenway Park last Saturday to secure the American League East championship.
But Johnson's 17 regular-season wins fell short of what most of Gotham expected when the Yankees gave him a two-year, $32 million extension through 2007. So in the minds of many, Johnson needed to come up big in the playoffs.
He didn't in Game 3. He was relieved by the opposite of big, in fact -- Aaron Small. And as a result, Johnson might not get to pitch again this year. The Yankees need to win Game 4 on Saturday at Yankee Stadium and Game 5 on Sunday in Anaheim to extend their season and get their prized acquisition another shot at October glory.
"It's disappointing to put us in such a big hole right away," Johnson said. "My teammates expect me to go out there and put them in a position to win, and I didn't do that. So yeah, of course it's disappointing. ... Hopefully they can pick me up and give me a chance to redeem myself."
The Angels' battering of the Big Unit was as stunning as it was swift.
Over his final 13 starts of the regular season, Johnson held left-handed batters to a .074 batting average, with one double, zero homers and one RBI. On Friday, however, it was the Halos' most dangerous lefty who gave Johnson the most trouble.
Garret Anderson, who batted .330 against lefties this season but was 3-for-18 (.167) in his career against Johnson, golfed a three-run homer to right with two out in the first inning. He also poked a triple in the third.
"If it was any lower, it would have been on the ground," Johnson said of the pitch Anderson hit out. "But if you look at the swing plane of a typical lefty, they can hit the ball down there."
"I look for mistakes," said Anderson, who went 4-for-5 with five RBIs. "Tonight I didn't miss 'em."
Bengie Molina, who singled in front of Anderson's homer, hit a two-run homer off a hanging splitter in front of Anderson's triple.
"If there was one pitch I'd want back, it was the one to Bengie Molina," Johnson said.
Johnson came into the game on a roll. His huge win over the Red Sox was his sixth in a row, and he didn't lose after Aug. 21.
"Down the stretch, he's been so locked in, so dominant," Yankees catcher John Flaherty said. "So we didn't see this coming."
"We don't look at who's pitching out there," Molina said. "We've got respect for him, but the bottom line for us is waiting for a good pitch to hit, waiting for mistakes."
After Darin Erstad -- another left-handed hitter -- doubled to open the fourth, Robb Quinlan singled. At that point, Yankees manager Joe Torre turned things over to Small and ended Johnson's shortest playoff outing since 1995.
"He didn't make too many good pitches on the lefties," Flaherty said. "He hung a slider to Erstad that he pulled in the corner, and the Anderson fastball was down-middle. Both of those pitches weren't quality pitches."
"Randy just didn't hit his spots," added Torre. "When you don't hit your spots, I don't care how hard you throw. It's not going to have a good result."
That '95 outing also came in a Division Series, and Johnson's first-round problems are well documented. He's 5-1 with a 1.48 ERA in Championship Series and World Series games, but in Division Series action, he's 2-7 with a 4.91 ERA.
"He's obviously one of the best ever," said Erstad. "There's no pressure on us when we face him because we're not supposed to hit him. Tonight we got pitches to hit and made the most of 'em. I would guess he missed over the plate more than he'd like to."
That guess would be right.
"I just didn't execute my location and paid for it," Johnson said. "You have to give them some credit, though. They have a relentless team, and if you don't make your pitches, no matter who you are, they're gonna hurt you."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.