LAKEWOOD, N.J.—In a lineup loaded with power, a guy with speed made the difference for the Northern Division in Tuesday’s South Atlantic League all-star game.
Micah Johnson (White Sox) of Kannapolis stole a pair of bases on consecutive pitches and scored the deciding run on a fielder's choice, all in the third inning, in the North's 2-1 victory before a sparse crowd at FirstEnergy Park. The game was delayed two hours and 51 minutes due to rain and was called after seven innings.
The North’s two runs both came because of speed. Johnson, the speedy switch-hitting second baseman, who leads the minors with 54 steals, followed the West Virginia’s Dilson Herrera's (Pirates) single with a base hit, sending Herrera to third. Johnson promptly swiped second and when Savannah catcher Kevin Plawecki (Mets) threw down, Herrera scored from third.
Johnson didn't hesitate. He stole third and scored on a groundout to second by Hickory center fielder Lewis Brinson (Rangers). Johnson, a ninth-round pick in 2012 out of Indiana, has 16 multi-steal efforts in 66 games this season, and his .422 on-base percentage ranks third in the league.
"I just try to get on base and create things with the speed God gave me," Johnson explained. "I don't steal to get records. I steal to score runs and help my team.
"I always look for two things that I key off of. I work my way down the pitcher’s body. If his shoulder leans back or if his front heel comes off, that means he's going home. I can see that on deck."
The Northern Division featured some of the more potent bats in the minors. Hickory teammates Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua (Rangers) have smacked 22 homers apiece, and West Virginia first baseman Stetson Allie (Pirates) has belted 17.
The aforementioned trio was held in check by a Southern Division staff that allowed just six hits and walked two batters, while striking out five. Gallo, Rua and Allie went a combined 2-for-6.
Augusta's Chris Stratton, the Giants’ first-round pick in 2012 out of Mississippi State, gave up four of those hits in the third and took the loss.
Rome second baseman Levi Hyams (Braves) gave the Southern Division a 1-0 lead with a homer in the first inning. The light-hitting Hyams entered the game with just one homer this season.
Hagerstown’s Dixon Anderson (Nationals) picked up the win for the North and Hickory's Alex Claudio (Rangers) earned the save.
Herrera, normally West Virginia's starting second baseman, was pressed into action at shortstop, a position he hadn't played since 2011 in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League.
"Honestly, I don't why they put me at shortstop," Herrera said through an interpreter, “but it felt normal."