3. June 3, 2008. Passes Clemens for #2 on the all-time K list.
When a game has been around for as long as baseball, there aren't many times that a player gets to become #2 on the all-time list for anything. Just look at those who currently occupy that spot in various counting stats. Ty Cobb (hits), Hank Aaron (HR), Babe Ruth (RBI), Walter Johnson (Wins). That's some elite company. And, on a Tuesday night in Milwaukee, Randy Johnson joined them, striking out Mike Cameron to pass Roger Clemens and take sole possession of second place on the career strikeout list. He'll be there for a while: no active pitcher has even half as many as RJ's 4,875 [C.C. Sabathia leads the way with 2,437].
But it's worth remember this almost didn't happen. Johnson began that spring on his second recovery from back surgery for a herniated disk, and was aware he was approaching the end. He told reporters, "I don't care to go through another surgery again, and rehab," saying that if it happened again it was "99.9%" that he would retire. He added, "According to a lot of the experts out there, I probably shouldn't even be playing the game anymore and shouldn't have been playing it about three or four years ago." Fortunately for us, he proved them wrong, and reached another landmark, strengthening his case for being, arguably, the most dominant left-handed pitcher of all time.
2. May 18, 2004. Perfect game vs. Atlanta in 2004.
The 2004 season sucked. You know how bad this year was? This season's Diamondbacks would have finished thirteen games ahead of that 2004 version. But in the midst of this suckage for the ages, churned out on an everyday basis, was the greatest pitching performance in the history of the franchise. We'd never even had a no-hitter to that point, the closest being a one-hitter, thrown by Curt Schilling against the Brewers in April 2002. But Johnson took care of that, and then some, becoming the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game, doing so at the age of 40, and beating a century-old record belonging to the immortal Cy Young, who was "only" 37 when he threw one.
It was truly dominating. Only one batter even reached a three-ball count, and with almost half the outs (13) coming by the K, the defense could largely sit back and watch. The nearest thing to a hit was on opposing pitcher Mike Hampton's squibber back up the middle in the sixth, which required a running grab by Alex Cintron to get Hampton by a step, Otherwise, as one of the rarest events in the sport goes, it was pretty low-key. Before the end, the Braves' crowd had given up, even with their team only two runs down, and were cheering for the Big Unit to complete the feat. With another swinging K, he obliged, and catcher Robbie Hammock did his best Easter Bunny impression.
1. November 4, 2001. Winning Game 7 in the 2001 World Series
When the media was fawning all over Madison Bumgarner last year, you might have been forgiven for hearing a derisive snort coming out of a certain photo studio: "Two days' rest? Wuss." For this story started the night before Game 7, as Johnson started Game 6, winning it and pitching seven innings, even though the Diamondbacks were 15-0 up after four. He left, having thrown 104 pitches, also getting a hit, an RBI and scoring twice. Many would have been happy to take the next night off. But it was absolutely no surprise when, with two outs in the eighth inning, the bullpen gate opened and Johnson trotted in to relieve Miguel Batista, for his second relief appearance as a D-back.
I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment. What sticks in my mind, thirteen years later, is that even though Arizona was 2-1 down, I suddenly knew we were going to win. Which is odd, because Mariano Rivera was warming up, and over the previous four post-seasons, he had converted 23 consecutive save opportunities, allowing one run over those 35 innings. He was as close to a sure thing as existed in the observable universe. But even after he struck out three batters in the eighth, it didn't matter. We had Johnson, and there was no way we could possibly lose this. The Big Unit retired all four Yankees he faced, and then came the bottom of the ninth...
We can take that fight-back as read, since no mere paragraph of description can possibly do it justice. But it made a winner of Randy Johnson, who finished the 2001 World Series with this line:
Johnson: 17.1 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 19 K, 1.04 ERA, 3-0 record.
Thanks to Bumgarner's victory in this season's Game 7 being changed to a save, Johnson remains the only pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to have won three times in the same World Series. It couldn't be more fitting that the greatest pitcher in Diamondbacks history won the greatest game, I venture in any sport, every played in this state.