“If it’s right-on-right and we can’t get out the eight-hole hitter . . .” Johnson said. “Do 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 pitchers’ pitches, which I do all year. But unfortunately, early in the count, he gave up a hit to right. . . . Here’s my closer, who’s death on right-handers, and he’s got a base open. He didn’t execute.
“You load the bases, you get their closer out. But you also make him have to make sure he doesn’t walk him. The only lack-of-experience thing was being too cautious with the catcher and Freese. That’s where we lost the game.”
Johnson felt Nationals pitchers all night had walked too many hitters, which in his mind continued a trend down the stretch of the season.
“I don’t know why, it seemed like the last two weeks of the season, we started walking more guys,” Johnson said. “I don’t know the reason why. I don’t know if it’s inexperience or what. Do I have any remorse about any of my decisions? No. I wouldn’t.”
Despite the bitter finish, Johnson did not want to let the Nationals’ accomplishments — a 98-win season and an NL East title — go unnoticed.
“I was not happy with how it finished out,” Johnson said. “I told the guys after the game, I said I’m proud of them, period. I talked to Storen: ‘Don’t beat yourself up too bad.’ ”
Johnson wants to return next season, a topic he and General Manger Mike Rizzo have already discussed. The decision will ultimately come down to approval by ownership, he said. Johnson is under contract with the Nationals as an advisor 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 return.
“It’s really up to the ownership and the general manager,” Johnson said. “I’m still not under contract [for next year]. We’re not there. So, yeah, I have some unfinished business. I’d like to be back. They haven’t asked me my opinion. But I have a good relationship with Rizzo and we’ve talked about if I come back, we’ve had some discussion on the coaching staff and players. I don’t have a contract. I guess when they get around to it, they’ll get around to it.”
Until then, Johnson will not question himself or what led to the final, bitter loss of the season. He will wake up Wednesday morning at peace with himself, and when he pushes the day’s first tee into the ground, Johnson will have no regrets.