05/30/09 9:16 PM ET
Johnson executes to perfection
Squeeze bunt holds more weight than homer in Cubs' win
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"I'm not smart enough to design that, that I can tell you," Piniella said. "He did that on his own. He caught the third baseman back and laid down a perfect, perfect bunt."
The Cubs had a 1-0 lead against the Dodgers heading into the third inning. With one out, Ryan Theriot was hit by a pitch and reached third on Milton Bradley's single, the second of his three hits in the game. Bradley was forced at second, but Derrek Lee walked, so the Cubs had runners at the corners with two outs.
Johnson saw Dodgers third baseman Mark Loretta playing back, and he bunted toward third. Pitcher Eric Stults recovered the ball, but fell and couldn't get a throw off. Theriot scampered home.
"I don't think it's really a surprise," said Johnson, who also hit a solo homer in the seventh inning of the Cubs' 7-0 win over the Dodgers. "[Third-base coach Mike Quade] always lets us know, especially when you have players up like myself or [Ryan] Freel or somebody else who's going to play that type of game, he'll always alert [the baserunner] that if [the batter] bunts, make sure you're out of here, especially if there are two outs."
There was no secret signal between Johnson and Theriot, no wink, or toe tap to give each other a heads up.
"It's two outs, so any time the ball hits on the ground, you're going to go," Johnson said. "[Quade] tells me at third, 'Hey, if he bunts for some reason, make sure you're up.' He's always getting in your ear.
"I'll look every at-bat and peek down there to see what my options are and if it's a time to bunt or not."
It was a good time.
"[Johnson] is a solid, solid Major League player and knows how to play the game," Piniella said. "He's just a good all-around player."
Johnson has hit safely in his past five games, and he homered on Wednesday against the Pirates. Two home runs in three games is a lot for him.
"It's been a situation for me where I've been trying to simplify things and hit mistakes," Johnson said. "A lot of times, you cater to what the pitcher is going to do. We've got all these scouting reports, and sometimes you get fed too much information instead of just trying to get mistakes out over the plate, like Theriot does all the time."
That last jab was made because Theriot was standing on a chair outside of the circle of media surrounding Johnson, trying to distract the outfielder.
What was Piniella's reaction when Johnson came back to the dugout after the successful squeeze play?
"He didn't say anything to me," Johnson said. "He just kind of looked at me, shook my hand and said, 'Good job.' I think any time you can capitalize like that, you see the third baseman back or maybe the second baseman pushed up the middle and you put the ball that way, that's always something I'm looking for. If they're going to play me in and take away the bunt, then it's to my advantage to hit the ball by them that way, as well."
Johnson finished with three hits and scored twice. It was his first three-hit game this year, and fifth multi-hit game. The bunt was more exciting than his homer.
"At the time, the bunt single, because of the way the score was," Johnson said. "I think the score when I hit the home run was 6-0. If I hit it in a different situation, it's a better feel to get the home run.
"To put us up 2-0 with the way [Ryan Dempster] was pitching, every time you see a guy dealing like that, every run is really precious."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.