Johnson's pinch-hit homer sets up Mets for success

Collins' recent lineup shakeups have paid off in four-baggers -- and wins

Johnson's pinch-hit homer sets up Mets for success

WASHINGTON -- In a video room tucked away in Nationals Park's visiting clubhouse, Kelly Johnson watched tape of his teammates swinging and missing, swinging and missing, swinging and missing at Stephen Strasburg's curveball. Nine of Strasburg's first 12 strikeouts on Wednesday came on curves, so Johnson figured the Nationals starter would throw him one early in his pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth.

He breathed a sigh of relief when Strasburg unleashed it with his second pitch, missing high and away. Then Johnson focused, with a 2-0 count, on an upper-90s fastball.

"If you get it," he said, "you don't miss it."

Johnson didn't, crushing the pitch to right field for a game-tying home run in what became a 5-3 win over the Nationals. It was a bright moment for Johnson, one of several non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisitions that have redefined New York's offense. And it was a defining moment for manager Terry Collins, who continues to enjoy dividends on his lineup decisions on a near-nightly basis.

Monday, Collins started Johnson over Ruben Tejada and watched him hit a homer. Tuesday, Collins asked seldom-used September callup Kirk Nieuwenhuis to pinch-hit in a tie game, then watched him hit a homer. Wednesday, Collins asked Johnson to hit for red-hot Wilmer Flores and watched him hit -- what else? -- a homer.

"His curveball was so dynamic," Collins said of Strasburg. "I just said, 'You know what? Kelly's a good fastball hitter. If he gets a fastball early in the count -- I'm not thinking home run, I just thought he might have a better chance."

Once again, Collins was right.

Hardly perfect at the helm of the Mets, Collins has made plenty of curious bullpen decisions, wavered on rotation issues and committed enough mistakes in previous years for the Mets to push him into this one with an expiring contract. But Collins never lost touch with his players, as he once did in Anaheim. The front office has some input in that, partially via a lineup optimization program dubbed "The Matrix."

But credit Collins, who has the final say, for making impactful moves when they seem to matter most.

"I just said, 'I'm going to run some lefties up there and see if we can take a chance,'" Collins said. "Fortunately, Kelly got ahead in the count and got a good ball to hit."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.