Big Unit comes of ageRandy Johnson's power, and now maturity, is what makes him unhittable
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun
Diamondbacks starter Randy Johnson delivers a pitch against the Blue Jays during the third inning of interleague play in Toronto, Sunday, June 13, 2004. (CP/Aaron Harris)
Three pitches in, Randy Johnson's perfect game bid was gone. Ditto for the shutout.
The Blue Jays' 5-foot-9 Frank Menechino drilled a 1-1 pitch from the 6-foot-10 Johnson 392 feet to left.
Four batters later Johnson, who has often joked "some people think my first name is 6-foot-10," was trailing 2-0 after a walk and a Gregg Zaun double.
Starts like this were common during Johnson's early days in a Seattle Mariners uniform. It usually meant first dibs on the warm water.
Showing maturity, which comes at 40 years of age and 17 seasons in the majors, Johnson pitched his way to a 5-3 win before 22,766 fans at SkyDome yesterday afternoon.
Johnson struck out 11 hitters, including five in a row, leaving with two Jays runners aboard and a 4-2 lead in the seventh.
"Throw out the first and the seventh and everything in between was pretty good,"Johnson said. "I always say it takes a power pitcher an inning to find himself.
"Sometimes that can put your team in too big a hole."
Before the game Walter (Call Me Stan) Stancheson, who runs the umpires room at SkyDome, gave Johnson a Cohiba Esplendido cigar for Johnson's perfect game against the Atlanta Braves on May 18.
While Johnson's teammates took batting practice, he relaxed watching Robot Wars on TV.
Johnson always had a blazing 98-m.p.h fastball. He has not always had maturity. He's not a robot.
"When he was young with Seattle, he could be wild. You never knew where the next pitch would be," veteran plate umpire Joe Brinkman said. "He conquered that years ago. Now, he's the exact opposite of what he used to be. He was still popping the mitt pretty good today."
Johnson's first pitch was clocked at 91 m.p.h. Most of the day he was in the 93-94 range.
"In the past, if he didn't have his good fastball or a good slider, it was going to be a short day," Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said. "Now, if he doesn't have a pitch, he'll throw a two-seamer or spot his slider. It started in 2001 -- now he knows how to pitch."
Johnson departed after back-to-back singles to Dave Berg and Alex Rios in the seventh and was given a rare standing ovation by the crowd.
"They've known me a long time, I came here regularly from 1989 to 1998," Johnson said, "I remember when this place was sold out. Unfortunately it's not the same as it was."
When Johnson was pitching at triple-A Indianapolis in 1988, he was hit on the back of his hand with a line drive. Despite a shutout bid, the manager decided to remove the Montreal Expos prospect for precautionary X-rays.
An upset Johnson headed up the tunnel to the clubhouse and smashed his fist into the concrete wall. The trainer took Johnson to the hospital and when Johnson returned hours later he had both hands buried in ice buckets in the clubhouse. When the trainer came back with the X-rays there was good news and bad news.
"Your hand hit by the line drive is okay," the trainer told Johnson, "but your hand you hit the wall with has a hairline fracture of the fifth metacarpal."
Johnson was on the disabled list for 17 days.
That was immature.
In earning his 196th double-digit strikeout game yesterday, his 3,980th career strikeout and ninth win of 2004, Johnson showed maturity.