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Blue Jays sign former IL MVP Johnson to minor-league deal

By Mike Harrington

A big potential signing for the Bisons today as the Toronto Blue Jays announced they have signed veteran first baseman Dan Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League spring training.

Johnson, 34, spent most of last season with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before finishing the year with five games for the Norfolk Tides. Combined, the left-handed slugger hit .250 with 26 doubles, 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 138 games. He also led the league with 96 walks (to only 85 strikeouts).

Johnson has been one of the top sluggers in the International League since 2008 with four teams. He was the IL MVP for Durham in 2010 after hitting .303 and leading the league with 31 home runs, a .430 on-base pct. and a .624 slugging pct. in 98 games.

Johnson has finished in the Top 10 in home runs in the IL four times since 2008, leading the league in 2012 with 28 for Charlotte. He was an IL all-star in 2010 and won the league’s Home Run Derby. He also played in the 2012 Triple-A All-Star Game at Coca-Cola Field (for Charlotte) and finished second in the Home Run Derby behind Bisons slugger Valentino Pascucci.

In his eight-year Major League career, Johnson has played in 416 combined games with Oakland, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He has hit .236 with 59 doubles, 56 home runs and 194 RBI for his big league career.

Johnson is best known for the video at the top of this post -- a dramatic bottom of the ninth, two-out, two-strike home run for Tampa Bay on the last day of the 2011 season. It forged a 7-7 tie with the Yankees in a game the Rays would win in the 11th and helped them nose out Boston for the AL wild-card. 

Super Saturday afternoon slate in wild card races

By Mike Harrington

Today is game 161, the second-last day of the season. Here's our playoff update:

AL divisions/homefield: The Red Sox have a magic number of one to wrap up the top seed after Friday's 12-3 win over the Orioles and would thus meet the wild card winner in the division series. The Tigers would play the A's in the other series, with Oakland having home-field advantage.

AL wild card: Everyone is in action early this afternoon, with Texas hosting Los Angeles at noon, Cleveland at Minnesota at 1 and Tampa Bay at Toronto at 1. The Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto Friday night dropped them into a tie with the Indians at 90-70, while the Rangers' win over the Angels pushed them to 89-71. Cleveland has won eight in a row, Texas has won five straight and Tampa Bay's loss Friday snapped a seven-game winning streak. All finishing very strong.

NL divisions/wild card: The Cardinals clinched the Central with Friday's win over the Cubs and are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The Dodgers (92-68) will be the No. 3 seed. The Pirates have a two-game lead on the Reds with two to play after Friday's 4-1 win in Cinci and need just one more win to clinch homefield against the Reds in the wild-card game. 

Pettitte's farewell: Nothing involving any of the races going on tonight, with the most significant game being the Yankees' 7:05 contest at Houston on YES. It will be the final start in the career of left-hander and suburban Houston resident Andy Pettitte, as John Harper sets the stage in today's New York Daily News and Ken Davidoff offers a similiar-scene setter in the Post. 

Quick thought: Doesn't Joe Girardi have to send Mariano Rivera out to pull Pettitte tonight?

Playoff scenarios for the final weekend of the season

By Mike Harrington

Games 160-161-162 will be played this weekend and there are plenty of things up for grabs. The quick list:

AL East -- The Red Sox have wrapped it up. Their magic number over Oakland to finish with the best record is 2 (Boston is at Baltimore this weekend while Oakland is at Seattle). The A's have the tiebreaker edge.

AL Central/AL West -- The Tigers and A's have already clinched divisions and will meet in the division series for the second straight year if the Red Sox finish with the best record.

AL wild cards -- Tampa Bay (90-69) leads Cleveland (89-70) by a game, with the Rays in Toronto and the Indians in Minnesota. Texas (88-71) is a game back and hosting the Angels. 

If Tampa Bay and Cleveland finish tied, the Rays would host the wild card game by virtue of their regular season record. MLB announced the following scenario today if all three teams finish tied: The Indians would host the Rays on Monday, with the winner getting one berth. The losing club would then play Tuesday in Texas, with the winner of that game getting the other wild card.

A big developing story from the Indians is that bedraggled Cleveland closer Chris Perez has apparently lost his job, with reporters in Minneapolis saying former staff ace Justin Masterson said before tonight's game he may be part of a closer-by-committee solution. Manager Terry Francona was non-commital to Perez after the Twins got four ninth-inning runs off him Thursday night. Perez is 1-1 with a 7.52 ERA and three blown saves since Aug. 1

NL divisions: The Braves (94-65) and Dodgers (91-68) have clinched while the Cardinals (94-65) have a magic number of 1 heading into tonight's home game against the Cubs. They would also clinch if the Pirates lose at home against the Reds. Atlanta owns a tiebreaker edge for homefield and it's a huge difference because the Braves enter tonight an MLB-best 54-24 at Turner Field.

NL wild card: The Pirates and Reds are meeting in Tuesday's NL one-game showdown. It's just a question if the game is at PNC Park or Great American Ballpark. The teams are meeting this weekend in Cincinnati and whoever takes two out of three games gets to host the playoff, which will be the Pirates' first postseason game since 1992.

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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