Johnson can't stay out of the spotlight
Infielder retired on kicked ball by Twins' Hernandez
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Elliot Johnson was involved in another memorable Spring Training incident. This time, however, the incident ended with laughter and applause on both sides.
In the third inning of Wednesday's game against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., Johnson attempted a drag bunt down the first-base line. It appeared he had the play beat for a single, until Twins pitcher Livan Hernandez, racing towards the ball, employed his childhood soccer skills and kicked the ball, lofting it on a direct line into the glove of first baseman Justin Morneau.
The play, recorded as a routine 1-3 groundout, had the Rays players in their dugout applauding in admiration along with most of the 7,968 in attendance.
"Oh, yeah, I was watching," Johnson said. "I was just thinking, 'I'm getting a hit or he's going to try to just like, I don't know, do a little flip at it.' But then I see him kick it, and it just kind of put a smile on my face. What a play. There's nothing you can do about that. Good job.
"It was a lot of fun. Even though it happened to me, it was pretty exciting to watch. It was fun, I mean, if he's going to make the play. And Morneau, too. Nobody really gave him props. But you just go, 'Wow.' For [Morneau] to stay on the bag and make the scoop like that, it was pretty cool. I had the front-row view there. So it was fun. It was exciting. Everybody in the dugout was tipping their cap. There's nothing you can do. Just having fun out there."
Hernandez, who also accomplished the foot feat last year with Arizona, is now 2-for-2 in right-foot assists.
"You've got to laugh a little bit. It's something nice," Hernandez said. "It's a good play, and to see everybody is going crazy. You don't see a lot of plays, not like that one."
Rays starter James Shields had just come off the field and missed the play, but saw the reactions.
"I actually stepped right in the tunnel real quick and I came out at the very end," he said. "So, when our team's giving the opposing pitcher a standing ovation in the dugout, I think that's a pretty good play. Their whole team was sitting there in the dugout not really doing anything and our team was standing on the front step giving applause. So, we're trying to incorporate that into our PFPs [pitchers' fielding practice]. I talked to [pitching coach Jim Hickey] afterwards and said we need to incorporate that into our pitchers' fielding practice sessions. [But], that's one of those things. That's Livan for you."
"That was pretty impressive," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Not only that, you've got to give Morneau some credit at first base. It was almost like he was holding the glove and saying, 'Kick it here.' I don't even know if [maybe] he willed it there. It was kind of ESP at that point. It was a great play. It was an outstanding play."
Asked if he would take Shields' suggestion to work that kind of play into PFPs, Maddon said he would have to institute certain criteria.
"Only if you played soccer at some point in your life. I don't want any sprained ankles," he said. " I'm sure he had played soccer at some point. But it was impressive. I didn't like it, but it was impressive."
Told that he can't seem to stay out of the highlight reels, Johnson -- who was involved in an on-field collision with Yankees minor league catcher Francisco Cervelli earlier this spring, which left Cervelli with a fractured right wrist -- replied:
"Seriously man. One end or the other."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.