The Washington Nationals trailed 3-0 to the Florida Marlins late on Friday night September 16, 2011. Fish right-hander Javier Vazquez was dominant that night, shutting the Nats out through six, but the Nationals threatened with back-to-back singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Laynce Nix to start the bottom of the seventh. Pinch runner Brian Bixler entered the game, taking over for Laynce Nix at first, but two outs later he and Zimmermann remained in place at second and first, respectively, after Rick Ankiel and Danny Espinosa both struck out swinging, bringing rookie first baseman Chris Marrero up with two on and two out.
For some reason, (Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said first base coach Trent Jewett took the blame, but the explanation didn't make sense in the context of the play), Bixler took a big lead on the first pitch to Marrero and got himself picked off on a snap throw to Gaby Sanchez at the first base bag by Marlins' catcher John Buck.
"As a baserunner, you've just got to be aware," Johnson said after the game when asked about Bixler's base running gaffe. "You can't get off there too far," the manager continued, "You want to be moving toward second but you've got to be scuffling back." First base ump Wally Bell punched Bixler out and the Nationals' skipper thought for a minute about heading out for a discussion with the umpire. "I was starting to argue," Johnson explained, but veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez stopped the manager on his way out. "I got about to Livo, and he said, 'I think he got'em.' So I kind of took a right turn," and returned to the dugout Johnson said with a smile.
The Nationals ended up losing the game 3-0. The pickoff play at first wasn't the only time Johnson had to ask for assistance from others in the dugout though apparently, as ESPN.com's Buster Olney explained this morning in an article entitled, "Nationals pushing on Fielder." According to ESPN.com's Mr. Olney, the Nats' 68-year-old skipper, "... had cataract surgery on his left eye earlier this week, a fix for a problem that had reduced his sight to 20/200." Johnson apparently told the ESPN.com reporter that, "... there were times last season that when he went out to challenge a close call that went against the Nationals, he'd ask others on the way out to the umpire if the call was actually wrong -- because he couldn't see it himself."
Luckily, the Livan Hernandezes of the world were around to let Johnson know. Sure, half the time when a manager's heading out to argue there's a point to make beyond what has happened in any particular play, but it's a good thing Johnson's vision problems were not public knowledge before now, telling an ump he was blind or needed glasses probably wouldn't have gone over so well if MLB umps knew there was no way the Nats' skipper could have seen the play he was out to argue about. All kidding aside, the surgery apparently went well, and Johnson told Buster Olney it would be a big help.
The Nationals announced earlier this winter that Johnson would be back on the bench in 2012. The former Mets, Reds, O's and Dodgers' manager led the Nationals to a 40-43 record and an 80-81 mark overall after replacing Jim Riggleman as the Nats' skipper in late June. Asked in a press conference officially announcing his return when he knew he wanted to come back to lead the Nats again this season, Johnson, who hadn't managed in the majors in eleven years when he took over in D.C., said he'd really decided in the last few weeks of the 2011 campaign. "When I had kind of more the mixture of talent I wanted on the ballclub and seeing how they all worked together. That was when I really felt, 'Man, there's so much more we can do here and I need to be here to help see it along.'"
Now that Davey Johnson can actually see what's going on out there, the umps better watch out.