Tape-measure shot isn’t enough to overcome bullpen breakdown

Last updated: April 24. 2013 11:38PM - 3205 Views
By - psokoloski@timesleader.com - (570) 991-6392

BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADERScranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders shortstop Gil Velazquez, left, applies a late tag to Columbus' Matt Carson after stealing second base at PNC Field in Moosic on Wednesday afternoon.
BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADERScranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders shortstop Gil Velazquez, left, applies a late tag to Columbus' Matt Carson after stealing second base at PNC Field in Moosic on Wednesday afternoon.
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MOOSIC - For the longest time, Cody Johnson wondered how long it would take him to turn on the power.

And when he unleashed it, the ball jumped from his bat with an awesome display of brute strength.

Johnson’s first home run of the season cleared the grassy knoll, hit the back of the walkway and one-hopped off the rocks in right field Wednesday for the longest home run at revamped PNC Field.

That blast - which traveled some 450 feet in the fourth inning - wasn’t quite enough to save the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders from falling 5-4 to Columbus in a morning matinee game.

But it did make Johnson feel a lot better about himself after a slow start to the season.

“It just felt good to get that monkey off my back. Finally!” Johnson said.

He nearly knocked that monkey to moon.

Johnson, who clubbed 16 homers in 59 games for Double-A Trenton last season, sent a towering moonshot well over the right field wall against Columbus starter Trevor Bauer to provide the RailRiders with their first run. On the list of impressive homers going back to the old park’s history, the blast rivaled Darryl Strawberry’s bomb off the center field rocks during a 1995 game - when the place had a double deck and was called Lackawanna County Stadium.

“I got it good,” Johnson smiled. “He left a first-pitch changeup up in the zone. The ball came in where I was swinging.”

Unfortunately for the RailRiders, it didn’t make a huge difference in the outcome.

Regular reliever Ryan Pope gave them a chance, coming out of the bullpen and limiting Columbus to two runs over 3 1/3 innings. David Adams delivered two runs with a bases-loaded single in the seventh inning - to go along with two sterling defensive plays at third base - as the RailRiders took a 4-2 lead.

And Johnson’s fourth-inning blast came an inning before the RailRiders tied the game when Bobby Wilson doubled and scored on Addison Maruszak’s two-out looping single in the fifth.

But all that work was wasted by a breakdown from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s normally-reliable bullpen.

Adams’ nifty backhanded play at third stranded two runners in scoring position in the top of the seventh inning, setting up a tie-breaking single by Adams in the bottom of the frame for a 4-2 RailRiders lead.

But the late relievers couldn’t hold it.

Ryan Rohlinger singled to start the eighth, then Jeremy Hermida crushed a game-tying, two-run homer off Cody Eppley. Matt Carson followed with a slow-rolling infield hit to third base, finishing Eppley’s outing. Ex-major leaguer Sam Demel - who’s been outstanding with men on base, was victimized by a day that saw both teams combine for 14 walks. He issued the last two free passes of the game, filling the bases with Clippers, before Cord Phelps reached on a fielder’s choice to score Carson with what proved to be the winning run.

“Everybody’s out on the field, you’ve got long counts, it’s hard to really stay on your toes,” said Johnson of a drawn-out affair that last 3 hours, 35 minutes.

He didn’t have to deal with that dilemma in the field, though. Johnson hit out of the designated hitter spot in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s lineup, and drew two walks himself after clubbing the home run that gave him a 1-for-2 day.

That hit raised Johnson’s average to .143 on the season.

“Just haven’t been seeing the ball well, not giving myself enough time,” Johnson said. “Had a rough start to the season.”

It got rougher just after the International League season opened, when Johnson left the team for six games due to a family matter.

“My mother had heart surgery, that’s what I was gone for a week,” said Johnson, adding his mom is recovering well. “I’m just happy to have that burden off me. It’s a lot easier to focus now.”

He, along with everyone else, watched with amazement as he nearly sent his first homer as a RailRider soaring out of sight.

“”It was just a great feeling,” Johnson said. “Huge relief.”

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