'A blessing': Johnson leads Tribe to win

Vallejo native hits first MLB homer in front of family, friends

July 19th, 2021

OAKLAND -- It’s one thing to hit your first home run. It’s another thing to do it in front of friends and family. And it’s another thing to do it in the place you grew up.

-- born and raised in Vallejo, Calif., about 30 miles north of the Oakland Coliseum -- hit the first home run of his career, a go-ahead blast, in Cleveland’s 4-2 win over the A’s in Sunday afternoon’s series finale. With family and friends in attendance to witness the milestone in the stadium where Johnson’s love of the game developed, the moment almost felt too surreal to be true.

“If you told me I would’ve had that game and been playing here 15 years ago, I would’ve told you that you were crazy,” Johnson said. “I never thought I would be here playing in the Coliseum where I grew up. It’s definitely a blessing to be here right now.”

Johnson, who attended Jesse Bethel High School, grew up an A’s fan. His favorite player was right fielder Jermaine Dye, a foundational piece on the A’s early 2000s teams. He has vivid memories of crossing the overpass that connects BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the stadium. To Johnson, the Coliseum is home.

The rookie has likely seen many former players clear the center-field fence, but in the seventh inning, Johnson had his own opportunity to do so. At the plate against All-Star Chris Bassitt, Johnson sat on a hanging changeup and lined it over the green padded wall.

Johnson tried to play it cool as he crossed home plate, but as he dapped up teammate Ernie Clement, the ear-to-ear smile broke through. As he made his way back into the dugout, he pointed up into the stands, acknowledging friends and family, who were losing their collective minds. Manager Terry Francona couldn’t help but smile.

“After hitting the home run, you could hear everybody yelling,” Francona said. “I’m sure that’s a pretty cool feeling for him.”

Along with the home run, Johnson also showed off his defensive prowess in right field. Of course, there was his diving grab to rob Sean Murphy of extra bases and save a run in the second inning, but Johnson also had a more subtle yet smart defensive play earlier that inning. Johnson played Jed Lowire’s line drive off the wall perfectly, holding the second baseman to a single. It wasn’t as spectacular, but the heads-up play didn’t go unnoticed.

“This is Jet’s game today,” said starter Zach Plesac. “He did everything. … That was a cool experience for me to see him do that in front of his family. The homie Jet -- it’s good to see him out here finally letting things go his way.”

Johnson wasn’t the only player with Bay Area ties to make an impact in Sunday’s win.

Bradley Zimmer, who was born in San Francisco and attended the University of San Francisco -- albeit raised in La Jolla, Calif. -- had a home run, a steal, three hits and three RBIs as well in what was one of the best overall games of his career.

Zimmer wasted no time putting a run on the board, turning on the first pitch of the game and sending it over the right-center-field fence for a home run.

The Bay Area ties didn’t end there as Bryan Shaw, from Livermore, about 25 miles east of the Coliseum, slammed the door in the ninth inning for his second save of the season. With James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase unavailable after pitching back-to-back days, Shaw made quick work of Matt Olson, Lowrie and Mitch Moreland, the heart of Oakland’s lineup.

Plesac wasn’t born anywhere near the Bay Area -- he is from Crown Point, Ind. -- but he shined alongside the California boys.

In his second start back from the injured list, Plesac allowed two runs across six innings, checking off several post-injury list milestones. Not only was this his first outing of at least four innings since May 18, but it was his first quality start since May 13. For a rotation that is missing its top two starters, Plesac’s re-emergence is a welcome sight.

The lone real mistake Plesac made was leaving a changeup far too high in the zone for Seth Brown, who sent a no-doubter into the right-field bleachers. Plesac knew it was gone, flailing his left arm in disgust as Brown rounded the bases.

Plesac may not have been in the best of moods as Brown made his trot, but when Johnson touched ‘em all for the first time, he and his teammates were beyond jubilant, right along with Johnson's family and friends in the stands.

“It was just an awesome moment for us,” Plesac said. “We needed something like that to happen. He did it. Just awesome. I can’t say enough good things about how Jet played today and helped us win this game.”