Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Postseason superhero Kris Johnson pitches Carp to victory

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Kris Johnson took the mound in front of the Hiroshima Carp’s red-clad fans and threw warmup tosses. His usual warmup music, the song “White Ranger Tiger Power” from the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” TV show, rang out around Mazda Stadium.

Then Johnson went out and did what he always seems to do in the postseason: performed like a superhero himself.

Johnson handed the Carp a 1-0 lead in the Japan Series with a Game 2 performance that was at times dominating during Hiroshima’s 5-1 win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The win came after Game 1 ended in a tie. Johnson struck out seven over seven innings of one-run ball, holding the Hawks without an extra-base hit.

“It’s thanks to Johnson,” said Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who played a big role himself with a 3-for-4, three-RBI night.

Since arriving in NPB in 2015, Johnson has seemed to be at his best during the postseason — which is saying something for a guy who is 46-22 with a 2.52 ERA and a Sawamura Award (he’s one of only two foreign pitchers to ever earn the honor) in Japan during the regular season.

Johnson has made five starts for the Carp during the postseason and is 4-1 with a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings. That includes a pair of Japan Series victories. When the lights have been at their brightest, the 34-year-old lefty has generally shined.

“I always try and pitch the same throughout the entire season, no matter if it’s playoffs or not,” Johnson said after Game 2. “It just comes down to conditioning, making sure you’re ready for those long seasons.

“It’s the same game. The game hasn’t changed, it’s just a different atmosphere.”

Johnson kept the pressure on the Hawks on Sunday and the Pacific League giants weren’t able to meet the challenge.

“He can throw strikes with all of his pitches,” catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara said when asked about Johnson’s strong point.

Ishihara and Johnson have been a formidable duo for the Carp since the American joined the team.

“Ishihara is really able to get the best out of what Johnson has on any given day,” Carp manager Koichi Ogata said. “We don’t ever really have to worry about how they’ll perform.”

The pair have formed a strong bond over the years, one that has helped Johnson excel on the mound for Hiroshima during the regular season and especially in the playoffs.

“Ishi is just as much a part of it as I am,” Johnson said. “He’s been there every single game since I’ve been here. We’ve had a lot of ups, couple downs, but we’ve always talked about it, made adjustments and come back, and we’ve always been stronger.

“Especially as these years keep going by, because he knows me as well as I know him. There’s sometimes where I already know a pitch that he’s gonna call before he even calls it.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.