Wednesday, January 6, 2010

10 things to remember about Randy Johnson's career

1) He played college ball at USC with Mark McGwire — and played basketball there too.

2) When he arrived in the majors with Montreal, he was the tallest man ever in MLB. (Jon Rauch, now with the Twins, is the current record-holder.)

3) His first three seasons in a major league rotation — with Seattle — were a struggle for command. He led the AL in walks each year. Nolan Ryan, then with Texas, suggested that he change his stride so that he landed on the balls of his right foot rather than the heel. That made a smoother delivery with less jostling — and his pitching immediately got dramatically better.

4) He threw tremendous numbers of pitches for his time, frequently exceeding 130 pitches and about once a year going over 140. This workload came with a physical price. He had four back surgeries and three knee operations. He pitched the last six years or so of his career with an artificial lubricant in his right knee — it was injected at the start of the season and again around the mid-point — because his cartilage was gone.

5) He terrorized left-handed hitters — think John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star game; Johnson threw his first pitch over Kurk's head, and Kruk spent the rest of the at-bat as far from home plate as he could get — and most lefties got a day off when Johnson's turn in the rotation came up. As a general rule, only the very best left-handed hitters faced him, and even they weren't too happy about it.

6) He threw a perfect game on May 18, 2004, against the Atlanta Braves. I remember watching the highlights and realizing that he had, for the last two innings, returned to a delivery that put more stress on the knee — risking further damage for the chance at the perfecto.

7) Speaking of risking damage for glory: Johnson, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched seven innings (107 pitches) to win Game 6 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees. The next day, in Game 7, he came out of the bullpen to get the last four outs as the D'backs put an end to Joe Torre's streak of World Series titles.

His stats for that World Series: 3-0. 1.04 ERA, 11 baserunners allowed in 17.1 innings, 19 strikeouts.

8) He won five Cy Young Awards, four of them in a row. He also finished second three times.

9) His strikeout total (4,875) is second all-time only to Ryan. His strikeouts per nine innings rate — 10.6 — is unsurpassed.

10) Of course, the bird. In a 2001 spring training game, a hapless bird darted into the path of a Johnson pitch and disappeared in a puff of feathers. (The ruling, incidentally, was no pitch.)

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