By this afternoon, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson felt back to himself. He felt less pain in his back, he replaced the air conditioning at his home in Winter Park, Fla., and he planned to play golf tomorrow. āIām fine,ā Johnson said.
Johnson, 69, also remained true to his defiant nature. Second-guess him if you want, he said. He couldnāt care less. He defended his decisions in the Nationalsā Game 5 collapse against the St. Louis Cardinals and also said he wants to come back next season, motivated to complete what he started this season.
āIf weād have won a World Series, I might have pulled a LaRussa,ā Johnson said, referring to Tony La Russa, the Cardinals manager who retired after winning the title in 2011. āI think Iāve accomplished what was needed to this point. Is there some unfinished business? Yeah, thereās some unfinished business. But thatāll be up to ownership. That ball is in their court. I donāt have a bad feeling, and I donāt mind waiting until November like last year.ā
On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson returned a reporterās phone call. At the end of the conversation, after answering questions about decisions from Game 5, Johnson said, āIf I knew you were going to second-guess me, I would have called back sooner.ā
āLet me tell you something,ā Johnson said. āAny manager in baseball, they will tell you, if you can get to your closer with a lead, youāve done good. I donāt give a ratās [butt] what anybody else thinks. If itās a one-run lead, a two-run lead, you did it.
āOne thing, in all the years Iāve been managing, if I think about all the options I have in every minute of that game, I never second-guess myself. Anytime you get to your set-up guy and your closer, you get a lead with your closer in there, youāre good to go.ā
Two of Johnsonās decisions drew the most debate. In the seventh inning, Johnson chose Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson over reliever Ryan Mattheus, his typical set-up man against right-handed lineups. Jackson had been battered in Game 3, the first inning was his worst this year, and in his career he owned a 5.70 career ERA as a reliever.
But Johnson believed Jackson would have better stuff than Mattheus. He also thought Jackson had a strong history against the top three hitters in the lineup, whom he would be facing. Jon Jay was 2 for 8 against him, Carlos Beltran was 2 for 9 with three walks, and Matt Holliday was 7 for 23 with a walk and a homer.
āI thought that he was good to go through the heart of the lineup, he was the best choice,ā Johnson said. āI value startersā stuff over a relieverās stuff. He gave up one run. He struck out two guys. He did the job.
āOf the guys that I think, at the time we had a three-run lead, Iāve got Jackson on his throw day and heās nasty, him facing [the top of the lineup], thatās what I want. Heās nasty on the middle of the lineup. He did his job. Just like [Jordan Zimmermann the day before]. All things considered, it was the right time for him.ā
Johnson also drew second-guesses for not walking shortstop Pete Kozma with two runners on base in the ninth inning and game tied at 7. Because closer Jason Motte stood on deck, Johnson could have at least ensured the Cardinals would get Motte out of the game for extra innings. The Cardinals also had only one position player remaining — backup catcher Tony Cruz, a career .257 hitter in fewer than 200 at-bats.
Johnson said he considered walking Kozma. In the end, he believed his best chance lay with letting Storen — who had allowed two runs in his previous 24 innings — face the Cardinalsā No. 8 hitter. Johnson said Storen had simply put the game in question when he walked Yadier Molina and David Freese with two outs.
āBut if right-on-right and we canāt get out the eight-hole hitter ā¦ā Johnson said. āDo I want to put him in a situation where he faces Cruz? I could have done that. But I wanted to give him the opportunity to make pitchersā pitches, which I do all year. But unfortunately, early in the count, he gave up a hit to right. How many guys — hereās my closer, whoās death on right-handers, and heās got a base open. He didnāt execute.
āYou load the bases, you get their closer out. But you also make him have to make sure he doesnāt walk him. The only lack-of-experience thing was being too cautious with the catcher and Freese. Thatās where we lost the game.ā
Johnson felt Nationals pitchers all night had walked too many hitters, which in his mind continued a trend down the stretch of the season.
āI donāt know why, it seemed like the last two weeks of the season, we started walking more guys,ā Johnson said. āI donāt know the reason why. I donāt know if itās inexperience or what. Do I have any remorse about any of my decisions? No. I wouldnāt.ā
Despite the bitter finish, Johnson did not want to let the Nationalsā accomplishments — a 98-win season and an NL East title — go unnoticed.
āI was not happy with how it finished out,ā Johnson said. āI told the guys after the game, I said Iām proud of them, period. I talked to Storen: āDonāt beat yourself up too bad.ā ā
Johnson wants to return next season. He and General Manger Mike Rizzo had already talked. The decision will ultimately come down to approval by ownership, he said. Johnson is under contract with the Nationals as an adviser for next year, but his contract would have to be reworked for him to come back as the manager. Rizzo has said he wants Johnson back, and so barring unforeseen intervention from ownership, Johnson should be back.
āItās really up to the ownership and the general manager,ā Johnson said. āIām still not under contract [for next year]. Weāre not there. So, yeah, I have some unfinished business. Iād like to be back. They havenāt asked me my opinion. But I have a good relationship with Rizzo, and weāve talked about if I come back, weāve had some discussion on the coaching staff and players. I donāt have a contract. I guess when they get around to it, theyāll get around to it.ā