Giants' Johnson wins No. 300
Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009
Washington -- As Randy Johnson hugged his teammates and family in a cool late-spring drizzle, he understood he was relishing a feeling that only 23 other men in baseball have enjoyed. Many of those pitchers, some he knows personally, some just regal names in the lore of the game, were on his mind as he celebrated his 300th win Thursday night.
As difficult as this careerlong accomplishment was, Johnson said, others accomplished so much more. With age comes the perspective that while he resides in baseball's highest aerie, he does not live there alone.
"It sounds funny," Johnson said after his 300th win came in a 5-1 victory against the Washington Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader, "but I've played 21, 22 years. I'm 45 and I've come upon 300 wins and I'm thinking, 'I only have 211 more to catch Cy Young.' "
The Big Unit was raised in Livermore, cut his teeth as a Montreal Expo, became a star as a Seattle Mariner and won a championship as an Arizona Diamondback. All of that, though, was relegated to the musty pages of a history book when he wrote a defining chapter at Nationals Park and joined the 300-win club as its sixth left-hander.
Johnson pitched six dominating innings before leaving with a bruised shoulder caused when he hit the turf to grab a ball and fling it to first baseman Travis Ishikawa for the first out of the sixth inning - "my senior moment when I thought I was only 25," Johnson joked. Manager Bruce Bochy said Johnson is not expected to miss a start.
The Unit retreated to the clubhouse to watch Brandon Medders, Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson get through the seventh and eighth innings then returned to the dugout to watch Wilson finish the ninth.
The game was far more tense than the final score. The Giants led 2-1 until they added three runs in the ninth inning, on a two-run double by Randy Winn and a Pablo Sandoval sacrifice fly.
Lisa Johnson surely spoke for her husband in the dugout and Giants fans the world over when she said, "It was a little scary for a while. I liked having those extra few runs."
Johnson became the first pitcher since Tom Seaver in 1985 to earn his 300th win on his first try. He also became the second-oldest pitcher to win 300, at 45 years and 267 days. Phil Niekro was the oldest at 46 years, 188 days.
The milestone occurred in front of a few thousand fans in a chilly gloom between storms, with a large contingent of ticket holders behind the visiting dugout rising and cheering for every positive Giants development. They included Johnson's wife and daughters Samantha, Willow and Lexi. His 13-year-old son, Tanner, served as a batboy and seemed more nervous than Dad during the ninth.
Randy Johnson sat stoically in the dugout, cracking a smile only when some fans started chanting his name, as Tanner nearly pulverized the baseball he was holding.
When Wilson struck out Wil Nieves to end it, Johnson emerged from the dugout and hugged his teammates in the handshake line. He seemed emotional as he hugged his children and tipped his cap to the sparse crowd before heading into the clubhouse, where the celebration was muted for obvious reasons.
"We're in a doubleheader right now," Bochy said. "It's hard to toast him when there's another game to play. We'll get to that point soon enough."
So Johnson munched on some pizza before walking into a news conference. Catcher Bengie Molina had handed him the ball from the final out, and Johnson handed it to his wife in the front row before he tried to describe his feelings.
He thanked the hundreds of teammates who helped him win each of those 300 games, acknowledged that this was special in light of the back injuries that nearly derailed his career and expressed relief that he did not prolong the wait.
"Some of the guys in the locker room have seen a lot in the last few years with Barry (Bonds') accomplishments and this accomplishment," he said. "I think I'm happy that it happened early enough. Like I said all along, I'm not here just to win five games. I'm here to help turn this team around."
Nobody can accuse Johnson of backing into his 300th win. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and left after allowing one unearned run on two hits with 78 pitches thrown.
Then, he needed a controversial call from home-plate umpire Tim Timmons to preserve the win.
The Giants still led 2-1 in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Timmons called strike three on a 3-2 Wilson fastball to Adam Dunn on a pitch that looked low. Ball four would have tied the game and given the Unit a no-decision.
"You really don't want to see a 300th win lost on a walk," Wilson said. "Nor did I want to see it."
Dunn argued with Timmons over the pitch, but Wilson, smiling, said, "I liked it. It worked out. I pretty much just wanted to throw it down the middle and see what he could do with it."
The Giants then scored their three precious insurance runs, and Wilson struck out the side in the ninth for his 13th save. He has saved all five of Johnson's wins this year.
Johnson's teammates presented him a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Fred Lewis singled, Ishikawa shot a double past first base, Juan Uribe grounded out to score Lewis and, with two outs, Emmanuel Burriss lined an 0-2 pitch from Jordan Zimmermann up the middle for a single.
Burriss and Aaron Rowand contributed excellent defensive plays, and the Johnson made a nice play of his own as he hurt his shoulder in the sixth inning. He knocked down Anderson Hernandez's leadoff grounder, chased the ball as it rolled to the right side and made a barehanded flip to Ishikawa as his 6-foot-10 body hit the turf.
Alberto Gonzalez, the next hitter, reached on an error by Edgar Renteria, who gloved a routine grounder and threw a slider to Ishikawa at first. The error was costly, as Nick Johnson then doubled to the gap in right-center and Gonzalez scored.
But the Unit preserved his 2-1 lead by retiring Ryan Zimmerman and Dunn, his last hitter on his momentous night.
"It just goes to show you what these great athletes are capable of doing when they put their mind to it," Bochy said. "He set his mind on 300 wins - I don't know when - and he did it."