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CJ serves as Atlanta's sparkplug on, off field

Third baseman brings big bat, passionate presence to first postseason

LOS ANGELES -- The way Chris Johnson sees it, he's been playing October baseball since February.

When the Braves third baseman crossed home plate screaming before nearly taking off B.J. Upton's hand with a high-five on Friday, that wasn't the October version of Johnson -- that was the 24/7 edition.

"For me, it's good because I can just stay the same," Johnson said of playing in his first postseason. "I approach Opening Day like it's Game 7 of the World Series. It's really fun, the playoffs."

Johnson spent 3 1/2 seasons in Houston and half a season in Arizona, where he never tasted the playoffs -- or even came close. This year, he was a major factor in the Braves' National League East title, finishing second in the league with a .321 batting average.

And if the Braves are going to advance past the Dodgers -- with whom they're currently tied at a game apiece in the NL Division Series -- Johnson will likely have to continue being a major factor when the series resumes Sunday night at 8 ET on TBS.

"I'm used to playing in games with my emotions high and when I'm jacked up," said Johnson, who came to Atlanta in the offseason deal with the D-backs that also netted Justin Upton. "I'm used to it. It really is just another game to me."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez noted that there isn't really any room for Johnson to get more fiery than he typically is, anyway.

"It doesn't matter if it's Game 1 of the season or Game 3 of the playoffs, he is passionate," Gonzalez said. "He is competitive. ... He doesn't need any more energy than what he has right now."

In eight at-bats this series, Johnson has three hits and two RBIs -- the second of which gave the Braves their first lead of the playoffs on Friday night.

But Johnson is quick to point out that the numbers don't matter in October. That's why he loves it so much.

"It's a different feeling in the playoffs," Johnson said. "It's the way baseball should be. The only thing that really matters is whether you win or lose the game. You don't have to worry about getting hits or putting up numbers. At this point, none of that stuff matters."

Johnson's presence in the lineup has been immense for the Braves this season. Generally, Gonzalez uses Johnson to protect the club's biggest power hitters, by putting Johnson -- one of the league's statistically toughest outs -- behind them.

"He lengthens the lineup," Gonzalez said. "After [Brian] McCann, you've still got to deal with Chris Johnson, who is -- by the way -- second in the National League in batting average."

Johnson's presence extends beyond the dynamic he brings to the lineup. Outfielder Jordan Schafer was teammates with Johnson in Houston for two seasons and said his attitude was infectious.

Schafer "knew [Johnson] was a little crazy" the first time the two entered the clubhouse together. He also knew Johnson had the makings of an great teammate.

"He's super competitive, and he wears his emotions out on his sleeve," Schafer said. "He plays hard. Whether you like that he shows so much emotion is personal preference, but he goes out there and gives everything he has, and that's all you can ask for as a teammate."

That's been easy this year for Johnson. After three sub-.500 seasons with Houston and an 81-81 finish with Arizona, Johnson has finally had the chance to play meaningful baseball on a daily basis.

"I can honestly say that the reason I'm having so much fun this season is because we're winning," Johnson said. "The personal stuff is just a bonus."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.
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