"I really wanted to go out on my terms. I just feel like there's not a lot more for me to do in this game. I just think it's a natural progression when you play this long. Eventually you have to say it's time."
-- Randy Johnson
With last night's press conference, Randy Johnson formally brought to an end a fabulous career that began back in September 1988 - Justin Upton had just had his first birthday. Some of the numbers posted are unlikely ever to be matched again, most obviously 4,875 strikeouts, which is seventeen hundred more - a fine career in itself - than the next active pitcher (Pedro Martinez). Throw in 303 wins, five Cy Young awards and a career ERA+ of 136, and you've got someone who is a surefire lock for Cooperstown the first time he's on the ballot.
Even as a Diamondback alone, his numbers are impressive, and some of his franchise marks may similarly never be surpassed. He holds the Arizona career records in ERA (2.83), Wins (118), Innings (1,630.1), Strikeouts (2,077 - a thousand above the #2), complete games (38 - over twice as many as the next man), shutouts (14), hit batters (74) and ERA+, a stunning 164, which is Cy Young worthy for a single season, never mind over eight seasons in the desert. But the number I love most is perhaps his record against the Chicago Cubs: in eleven starts for us against them, he was 10-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 80.2 innings. That's ownership. Incidentally, the no-decision came courtesy of the bullpen, who couldn't hold a two-run lead in the ninth. It's a theme we may hear again...
The relationship Johnson had with the team, and its fans, had its ups and downs - with his time including four knee surgeries and three operations on his back, it could hardly be any other way. But it was rarely less than a joy to watch him pitch, and when he was on, there was an undeniable knowledge that you were watching the kind of player a franchise gets to enjoy once in a generation.The good news is, Johnson has a one-year agreement to work for the Diamondbacks - the position has yet to be decided - so we'll continue to be reminded of his exploits.
After the jump, I'll list my ten favorite Johnson moments from his time with the Diamondback.
- 10. First impressions - April 5, 1999
Opening Day 1999 saw our new acquisition make his debut for the Diamondbacks, in Dodger Stadium. We were fresh off a 97-loss season, but the arrival of Johnson made a statement that the team had no intention of repeating that. He pitched solidly and left the game with a 6-2 lead after seven. But remember I mentioned the bullpen? Well, not for the last time - our relievers coughed it up, and LA won 8-6 in 11 innings. Still, the Johnson era had begun:
- 9. Johnson the slugger - September 19, 2003
Over 23 seasons in the majors, Johnson was a .125 batter, had a career -22 OPS and struck out in almost half his career at-bats. But for one glorious night in Milwaukee, all that was forgotten. In the third, a 2-0 pitch from Doug Davis - yes, that Doug Davis - was dispatched to the left-center bleachers for the only home-run of Johnson's career. Said Davis, "I didn't know he had pop. And I guarantee he didn't know it, either." It proved the deciding tally in a 3-2 Diamondbacks win.
- 8. Big Unit from the bullpen - July 19, 2001
His World Series heroics was the second relief appearance of Johnson's time in Arizona. The first came earlier the same season, after an exploding transformer at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego brought an end to the evening game. The next day, play resumed, with Johnson replacing Curt Schilling. The Big Unit threw seven innings in relief, completing a one-hitter and striking out an amazing 16 - the first non-starter since 1965 to fan more than a dozen batters.
- 7. Randy goes dove hunting - March 24, 2001
In the seventh inning of a spring-training game against the Giants, Johnson uncorked a 95-mph fastball, whose journey to the plate was interrupted by an unlucky dove, that took the full brunt of the pitch, killing it instantly. Said catcher Rod Barajas, "I'm sitting there waiting for it, and I'm expecting to catch the thing, and all you see is an explosion. It's crazy. There's still feathers down there.'' The official call was no pitch - I still reckon it was a fowl-ball...
- 6. Win #300 - August 1, 2008
Yes, his 300th victory took place with Arizona, in a largely-unheralded game against the Dodgers, where he threw six innings and allowed only an unearned run. By the more conventional counting, that might have been #293 - but then there's his seven victories in the post-season. It's always struck me as insane that baseball ignores post-season numbers in career totals: and now we can celebrate Randy's 300th win with us. And if you're not down with that, I've got two words for you...
- 5. Game 2, 2001 World Series - October 28, 2001
After the reigning champion Yankees had gone down in Game One, they were keen to strike back. Randy, however, had other ideas, pitching a complete-game shutout on three hits, with one walk and 11 K's [the exact same line he'd posted against Atlanta, 12 days previously]. By Game Score, it ranks in the top ten post-season pitching performances of all-time, and to this day, is still the best in the World Series since Bob Gibson in the opener of the 1968 classic.
- 4. His last in Arizona - September 28, 2008
Though it wasn't certain, there was a sense this was the end of the Johnson era with us, and so it proved. This was vintage RJ: only an unearned run in his 100th and final complete-game: it looked like it might not be enough, as we trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth. But a Chris Young home-run tied it, and with two outs in the ninth (and Johnson pinch-hit for two batters previously), Young walked with the bases loaded, giving the Big Unit the victory in his Phoenix swansong.
- 3. The 20-strikeout night - August 5, 2001
This game has already been covered in some depth less than two months ago, so I don't think we need go into much detail here. It was a phenomenally dominating performance, one of eight occasions that year Johnson would fan 14 or more batters. To put that into context, it happened only twice last season in the entire National League.
- 2. Randy Johnson is perfect - May 18, 2004
I didn't see the start of this one, because I was off getting my hair cut, but the game was on in the barbers, and it was clear Johnson was in rare form. With the perfecto still intact after five innings, I hurried home, settled in front of the TV and told Mrs. SnakePit history was in the making. Each batter retired was received with a cheer, until Eddie Perez went down swinging, and Robbie Hammock bounced at Johnson, like Tigger on speed. Marvellous.
- 1. Game 7, 2001 World Series - November 4, 2001
After winning Game 6 in a blowout the previous night, the Big Unit made his way to the bullpen in the middle innings, to pitch if needed. And he was: with two outs in the eighth, the call went out and Johnson strode from the 'pen to the mound. I still get chills just thinking about it. We may have been 2-1 down at the time, but seeing Randy come in, I suddenly had faith - no, make it knew this was not to be the end of the story. And the rest is, as they say, history.