Lately, scoring runs hasn't been as difficult for the Rays as the erratic timing of when they score them.
After going toe-to-toe against the Rangers Wednesday night to take an 8-4 slugfest, the Rays were shut out by the Blue Jays on Thursday night. The team's frustration to score continued in the second inning of Friday night's game when Matt Joyce got thrown out at the plate by Blue Jays left fielder Rajai Davis, which served as the prelude for how the game would end.
The Rays trailed, 2-1, heading into the top of the ninth when the Blue Jays brought in their closer, Casey Janssen. Jeff Keppinger, who already had two hits on the night, laced a leadoff single to left.
Johnson then entered the game as a pinch-runner and quickly validated that decision by making a heads-up play by tagging and advancing to second on Luke Scott's flyout to Davis in foul territory in left field.
"If the ball's foul, I have nowhere else to be but tagging up," Johnson said. "I'm going to make a jump to see if I can make it. But he kind of carried his momentum into the stands a little bit, so I knew I would make it easy."
After Ryan Roberts struck out looking for the second out, pinch-hitter Carlos Pena stepped to the plate. Pena's struggles this season have been well documented, but he came through by hitting a 1-1 fastball into right field. Then, the race was on.
"I knew it was going to be close," Johnson said.
Pena saw the ball reach right fielder Moises Sierra and figured he needed to try and do something when he rounded first.
"I knew it was going to be close, so I was coming around first and just kept going to second to try and draw a throw," Pena said.
Sierra fielded the ball on one hop and threw a strike to catcher Jeff Mathis at the plate.
"I peeked in to see where the ball was going to be and what was going to happen," Johnson said. "And I saw [Mathis] take a look at where I was right when I was coming at him. I think that's when he made up his mind where he was going to go after he caught the ball, because I'm coming in as fast as I can go."
Meanwhile, Pena continued toward second, forcing Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind to make a decision.
"[Lind] made the right decision to let the ball through and took the chance," Pena said. "If he's safe right there the winning run's at second. He took a chance and it worked out for him."
Johnson hit Mathis an instant after the ball arrived. Mathis held onto the ball and the Blue Jays had a win.
"It's easier when the ball's coming from left field, left-center, because you've got the play in front of you, you see where the guy's at and you can be able to get yourself into position a little bit better," Mathis said. "But from right field, it's kind of blind, especially when it's bang-bang like that. So my first priority was trying to get my body in front of the plate. ... That was a pretty exciting moment. Just to win the game like that, a close ballgame, was pretty cool."
While the Blue Jays celebrated, Johnson dealt with the pain from losing and having his face scraped along the clay at home plate.
"Wish I could have gotten a little better shot on him, but it's [Mathis'] job to get it and get out of there as best as he can, so he did a good job there," Johnson said.
According to Baseball Reference, the play at the plate was the first time the game-tying run has been thrown out at the plate to end a game this season and the first time it's happened since Detroit defeated Cleveland, 8-7, on Aug. 12, 2011. The play also marked the second time the Rays have lost in said fashion. Joey Gathright was gunned down at the plate in Boston on May 28, 2006.
"Two throws from the outfield -- Rajai and Moises, those are the game-savers," said Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, who got the win after holding the Rays to one run on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Johnson noted that the team's lack of offense forced third-base coach Tom Foley's hand when directing traffic.
"You know Foley's taking more chances, taking more risks because we're not having a whole lot of opportunities," Johnson said. "And I appreciate the aggressiveness. We have to go after it right there. I think that was the best shot we've got. I'm trying to do everything I can to score the run. We just came up a little bit short."
Until the exciting climax to Friday night's game, the contest had been a pitching standoff between Morrow and Jeremy Hellickson, who took his 10th loss of the season after giving up two solo home runs -- to Sierra and Edwin Encarnacion -- while Morrow surrendered just one to Desmond Jennings.
"No doubt that we want to win those close games," Pena said. "When we get the short end of the stick, it obviously hurts, because we take pride in winning those close ones for sure, [on being] the team that fights all the way to the end and is victorious. We want to be that team. It hasn't worked out for us the last couple of nights."