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20 years ago today: The Big Unit goes big

After the offense won game 1, the pitching delivered victory to the D-backs in game two

Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher Randy Johnson watche Photo credit should read MATT YORK/AFP via Getty Images

By just about any measure, Randy Johnson’s start in Game 2 of the 2001 World Series was among the most dominant of modern times - or indeed, any era. Since 1993, there have only been three complete-game shutouts pitched in the World Series: Johnson’s, Josh Beckett in 2003 and Madison Bumgarner in 2014. To find one such with 11+ K’s like Johnson, you need to go back to Bob Gibson’s game in 1968 World Series. And to find one with 11+ K’s and three or fewer hits? Try 1906, when Ed Walsh had a two-hitter for the White Sox against the Cubs.

All told, by the overall metric of Game Score, Johnson’s outing ranks in the top five across the entire 118-year history of the World Series, and is the finest in the last fifty years. Here are the best ten.

Best World Series starts

Rk Player Date Gm# Tm Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Rk Player Date Gm# Tm Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
1 Babe Ruth 1916-10-09 2 BOS BRO 14 6 1 1 3 4 1 97
2 Don Larsen 1956-10-08 5 NYY BRO 9 0 0 0 0 7 0 94
Ed Walsh 1906-10-11 3 CHW CHC 9 2 0 0 1 12 0 94
4 Bob Gibson 1968-10-02 1 STL DET 9 5 0 0 1 17 0 93
5 Randy Johnson 2001-10-28 2 ARI NYY 9 3 0 0 1 11 0 91
6 Monte Pearson 1939-10-05 2 NYY CIN 9 2 0 0 1 8 0 90
George Earnshaw 1931-10-06 4 PHA STL 9 2 0 0 1 8 0 90
Bill Dinneen 1903-10-02 2 BOS PIT 9 3 0 0 2 11 0 90
9 Don Drysdale 1963-10-05 3 LAD NYY 9 3 0 0 1 9 0 89
Hod Eller 1919-10-06 5 CIN CHW 9 3 0 0 1 9 0 89

[The above, incidentally, is another reason why Babe Ruth is THE greatest baseball player of all time] The Big Unit retired the first 10 batters he faced, stopping the Yankees from getting any momentum, as they tried to level the series. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, before Jorge Posada ended it with a lead-off single to right. The only time the Yankees got anyone into scoring position was the eighth inning, when Shane Spencer and Alfonso Soriano singled, to put two on with no outs. But Scott Brosius struck out looking, and Luis Sojo hit into an inning-ending double-play. Johnson finished the shutout off by retiring New York in order on nine pitches, He threw a total of 110 pitches.

He needed to be at his best, because for much of the game this was a tense and close contest. Arizona took the lead in the second. on a Reggie Sanders single and Danny Bautista double. But unlike a certain other game in this series, Andy Pettitte was on his game, retiring fifteen batters in a row after the Bautista RBI, to keep his team in the game. That was all the scoring either side managed through six innings. But in the seventh, the D-backs finally broke through. Luis Gonzalez was hit by a pitch, and one out later, Bautista legged out an infield single. Matt Williams then provided some much needed insurance, with a no-doubter three-run bomb to left-field.

It was the only hit with a runner in scoring position for either team on the night. in a game played in a lickety-split 2:35. Since 1995 there have been only two quicker World Series contests (Game 5 in 2010, 2:32; and Game 1 in 2017, 2:28). This rapidity was largely because the two sides combined for just 59 plate-appearances, with a total of 202 pitches thrown. Nineteen of those PAs were over in one or two pitches, and the Diamondbacks never even reached a three-ball count all night. That’s not normally a recipe for success, but they got the big hit when they needed it, to take a 2-0 lead on the road to New York. Having outscored the Yankees 13-1 over the first two games, they were surely cruising to victory.

But Curt Schilling’s nightclub dancers, Mystique and Aura, would have something to say about that...