Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Randy Johnson's 300th Win Part II: The Player

This is part II out of VI in my look back at one of the most significant events in my career as a baseball fan: seeing Randy Johnson win the 300th game of his career. Part I, in case you missed it, was both a defense and a history of the 300 win milestone. Part II will be about the man who would become the 24th pitcher to win 300 games.

Or the Complete Story of How I Got to See One of the Greatest Milestones in the History of the Game

Part I: The Introduction
Part II: The Player
Part III: The Set-Up (Coming December 2)
Part IV: The Rainout (Coming December 3)
Part V: The Game (Coming December 4)
Part VI: The Aftermath (Coming sometime in December)

Or The Man Who Would Become the 24th Pitcher to Win 300 Games

At the conclusion of the first part of this series, I wrote that some people felt that the next 300-game winner after Tom Glavine had yet to be born. Well, as it turns out, the man who would follow Glavine into the 300-win club wasn't born a few months after Glavine reached the milestone. Instead, he was born a few months after Early Wynn won his 300th game.

Randall David Johnson was born on September 10, 1963 in Walnut Creek, California to Carol and Rollen "Bud" Johnson of nearby Livermore. Young Randy started playing ball as a youngster, throwing tennis balls against garage doors to build up his left arm. He started playing Little League at the age of eight. There were two things that made him stood out on those Little League fields in central California: his height and his utter lack of control. His father was 6'6", and that certainly had an effect on young Randy. He was six feet tall by the time he was eleven years old and stood a head taller than most other kids. And every time he threw the ball, he had little idea where it was going. Over 30 years later, Randy would recall throwing about "five or six pitches" over his fathers head every time they'd play catch. It got to the point where his father made Randy retrieve the balls that got away. By that time Randy had learned to throw a breaking ball, so he can be pretty unhittable whenever he can find the strike zone.

Baseball was not young Randy's only interest. He loved playing soccer as a child, and as a 6'8" freshman in Livermore High School, he became a basketball star. However, his main interest outside of sports was photography. It was his only opportunity to observe the world on his own terms, rather than the other way around. It provided a solace for him that he could not find in sports. Johnson stood a quarter of a foot to half a foot higher than the hitters he was facing, and needed to establish a consistent delivery just to make sure that the ball was going to make it into the strike zone. Plus, his stature made him an easy target for hecklers.

Nevertheless, his fastball and breaking ball were good enough that he can be dominating when he could hit the strike zone consistently. He struck out almost two batters an inning, and pitched a perfect game in his last high school start. His high school career was strong enough that he earned several scholarship offers from schools, and he was even drafted by the Atlanta Braves as the 89th pick in the 4th round of the 1982 draft, ahead of a young first baseman named Will Clark and a pitcher named Mike Maddux, whose brother Gregory Alan was pitching for Valley High in Las Vegas, NV. After talking things over with his family, Randy decided not to sign with the Braves, and instead accepted a baseball and basketball scholarshop from the USC Trojans, whose baseball coach was the legendary Rod Dedeaux, and whose alumni included Tom Seaver, who was just three years away from winning his 300th game.

Randy Johnson pitched well in his first two years at college, even if he had an embarrassing moment in his first appearance with the Trojans when he confused the opposing first base coach as a baserunner. Although he didn't make the Olympics team like college teammate Mark McGwire in 1984, but he did well enough that expectations were high going into the 1985 season. Baseball America ranked him as the 4th best college pitcher in baseball. However, the entire season ended up being a disaster. Randy set a school record with 104 walks as the Trojank sank to their worst record since 1915, when the team was made up only of law students. Nevertheless, the Montreal Expos were impressed by the lanky southpaw, and drafted him in the 2nd round, as the 36th overall pick. This time, the Expos convinced him to sign rather than go back for his senior year and to get his degree, and so Randy signed less than a week after the 1985 draft.

Randy Johnson's first minor league stop was with the Jamestown Expos. Perhaps still feeling the effects of his college season, as he went 0-3 in eight starts, and walked 24 in 27.3 innings. The Expos nonetheless put faith in their starter, and put him in the rotation for Class A West Palm Beach a year later. Johnson ended up going 8-7, but he pitched better than his record may indicate, with an ERA of 3.16 and 133 strikeouts in 199.7 innings. His control was still a problem, as he walked 94, but he helped West Palm Beach win their division. Randy moved up to Class AA Jacksonville for 1987, where he began working with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to improve his delivering and more importantly, control his emotions. He walked 128 in 140 innings at Jacksonville, but limited the damage with 163 strikeouts in 140 innings. He ended up with a 3.73 and an 11-8 record, as Jacksonville also won their division. The Expos thought Randy Johnson may finally be ready, and promoted him to Class AAA Indianapolis alongside pitching coach Kerrigan.

Randy got off to a hot start at Indianapolis, and looked like a good candidate for promotion to the big leagues. However, on June 14, a line drive struck his left wrist, and he had to be taken from the game. Frustrated that his career might be coming to a close when he was so close to the big leagues, he took his anger out on the bat rack in the dugout. After the game, X-rays showed only a bruise on his left wrist, and a fractured fifth metacarpal on his right hand. Randy ended up on the disabled week for weeks, and he had to wait another three months to make the majors. He made his major league debut on September 15, 1988 against the second place Pittsburgh Pirates and defeating them 9-4 for his first major league win. He struck out five and walked only three in five innings, and his only major blemishes were a pair of home runs to Glenn Wilson. He also set a record by becoming the tallest player in major league history - his 6'10" height bested former pitcher Johnny Gee by one inch.

Randy Johnson was even better in his second start, striking out 11 while walking only one in a complete game against the Cubs for his second win. He won his third start, also against the Cubs, and got through six walk-less innings in his final start, although the Expos wound up losing to the Phillies. Expectations were high for Randy Johnson in 1989. He was all but guaranteed a rotation spot, and he was named by Sports Illustrated as the best in a large group of rookie pitchers. He also got a new nickname in 1989. Over the years, Johnson had been called everything from Ichabod Crane to Big Bird, but it is this nickname that stuck. One day during batting practice, Randy was walking and bumped into Expos leadoff man Tim Raines. Randy Johnson is 6'10", while Tim Raines stands at only 5'8". Raines's batting helmet only reached Randy's chest. Raines looked up at his imposing teammate and exclaimed, "You're a big unit!"

Things were looking up for Randy, but it didn't last. He struggled in the Expos rotation. He made six starts and one relief appearance, and his ERA in those outings was 6.67. He walked as many hitters as he struck out, and his record stood at 0-4. The Expos quickly shipped him back to AAA, where he seemed to be more comfortable. While Randy was striking out hapless AAA hitters at a rate of 17 in 18 innings, the Expos were finalizing a deal for Mariners ace Mark Langston. The deal was finalized on May 25, 1989, and Randy Johnson turned out to be one of three players going to the Mariners.

Randy Johnson started out strong with his new team. He won his first three start, including a 2-1 win over the Texas Rangers on June 4, 1989, the 5th in his career. He struck out 19 in 20.7 innings while walking only 10 in these three starts, posting a 1.31 ERA. He would eventually settle back down to Earth, ending up with a 7-9 record and 4.40 ERA with his new team, but he showed some signs of his potential, getting 21 strikeouts against only 4 walks in 15.3 innings in his final two starts.

1990 started out somewhat rocky for Randy. He had 51 strikeouts in 59 innings going into a start against the Tigers on June 2, but he also walked 33 and sported a 3-3 record with a 4.73 ERA. Randy struggled with his control in that game against the Tigers. He walked six, including three in the sixth to load the bases. Yet the Tigers couldn't do anything with the balls that were going into the strike zone. They popped up, they grounded out, they flied out, they struck out. One thing they couldn't do was get any hits. When Johnson struck out Mike Heath to end the game, he had pitched the first shutout of his career, and it was a no-hitter. He was so excited that he called his dad to tell him about the news, and the first thing his dad said to him was, "Why did you walk six batters?"

Indeed, that seemed to be the reputation that followed Randy Johnson around in his first three seasons as a Mariner. Here was a menacing southpaw who wore a mullet on the mound and scowled at the hitters. Randy could strike out hitters with the best of them - he finished 6th in 1990, 2nd in 1991, and first in 1992 - but also had trouble finding the plate. He led the majors in walks three years in a row between 1990-1992, when he put up win totals of 14, 13, and 12. The only other pitchers to do so were Nolan Ryan and Tommy Byrne.

In fact, it was the Ryan Express that changed things for Randy. When the Mariners and Rangers played in early August 1992, Randy did a bullpen session with Ryan and Rangers pitching coach Tom House. They informed him that he was landing on his heel on every pitch. This sent a jolt throughout the body, and made it hard for him to pitch from the same angle consistently. They suggested that Randy start landing on the ball of his foot. That way, his medial longitundinal arch (made up of the calcaneus, talus, navicular, cuneiforms, and metatarsals 1-3) would absorb most of the impact, and Johnson can complete a smooth follow-through. Randy mused over the words of these two baseball sages, and made the necessary corrections. He established a new career high of 15 strikeouts on September 16, and less than two weeks later, he faced Nolan Ryan and the Rangers. He toyed with the Texas offense, striking out 18 in only 8 innings to tie the AL record for lefties. The Big Unit had finally arrived.

But the joy of reaching a new level didn't last long. On Christmas of 1992, his beloved father Bud, who did more to shape Randy Johnson's persona than anybody else, suffered a sudden aortic aneuyrism. He passed away before Randy got to the hospital. Almost ten years later, Randy Johnson recalls the moment to Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci:
"I saw him in his pajamas and just hugged him and cried," Johnson says. "I talked to him. Everything spilled out. Mostly it was, 'Why? Why did you have to leave?' I made a promise then that nothing would get in my way, that I'd become the best pitcher I could be." (Verducci, 2001)

One virtue that Bud Johnson instilled in his son was determination. No matter what happens, Randy Johnson will always be counted on to give his best. Armed with the pointers from Nolan Ryan and with the inspiration from his late father and new wife Lisa as, Randy Johnson's best hit a new level. On April 6, 1993, Randy faced Jack Morris and the defending World Champions Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day. He tore through the Blue Jays lineup, striking out 14, walking only two, and allowing only one run in eight innings. It was his 50th career win. 1993 would become a breakout year for Randy. Gone was the goofball persona that Sports Illustrated wrote about in 1992, one who played pranks and drums in the clubhouse while being equal parts overpowering and wild on the mound. Randy Johnson was now THE MOST dominant pitcher in the majors. He was able to develop a biting slider that would eventually gain the nickname, "Mr. Snappy," and be named the 2nd best slider in history by Bill James and Rob Neyer, behind only the one by 300-game winner Steve Carlton. Nolan Ryan called Randy"the pitcher of 90's," and Randy paid tribute to Ryan by donning the number 34 in the game he struck out his 300th hitter. He ended the season with a 19-8 record, a 3.24 ERA, and 308 strikeouts in 255.3 innings with only 99 walks. He ended up second in the Cy Young vote behind only 22-game winner Jack McDowell.

1994 was more of the same for Randy Johnson. He was leading the league with 204 strikeouts, and had 13 wins when the strike cut the season short. When baseball resumed in 1995, it would become a magical year for Johnson and the Mariners. Through August 16, Randy was 12-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 156.7 innings against only 43 walks. However, his team was only 52-50 and milling about in third place in a four-team division. Randy went on fire over his last 8 starts of the season, and he inspired his team to do the same. He allowed only 9 earned runs in 61.7 innings (a 1.31 ERA), striking out 82 and walking only 22. He went 6-0 in these eight starts, and the Mariners won his two no-decisions, both of which he struck out more than 10.)

The Mariners stormed back from an 11-game deficit and posted a 3-game lead at one point. However, they faltered and a little bit and ended the regularly scheduled season tied with the Angels. So on October 2, 1995, the Mariners and the Angels faced off in a one-game playoff. Randy Johnson made the start for the Mariners, and the opposing starter was none other than Mark Langston, the man the Mariners traded to get the Big Unit. Randy shut down the Angels, striking out 12 in a complete game effort, and only a leadoff 9th inning home run by Tony Phillips kept it from being a complete game shutout. The Mariners were going to the playoffs for the first time! (My oh my!) The magic continued in the playoffs. Johnson pitched Game 3 with the Mariners down 0-2, with Game 2 being a heartbreaking loss on Jim Leyritz's 15th-inning home run, and he was good enough to beat Jack McDowell - the man that beat Randy for the 1993 Cy Young - and keep the Mariners alive. He then came in on one day's rest in the 9th inning of Game 5 and tossed three innings. The Yankees generated a run off of him on a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a single, but the Mariners won on Edgar Martinez's double. Alas, the magic came to an end in the LCS against the Indians. Johnson was tabbed to start Game 6 with the M's down 3 games to 2, and was done in by inept fielding and a home run to Carlos Baerga. Nevertheless, Randy won his first Cy Young award that year, as he led the league in ERA and strikeouts (he came only six strikeouts away from getting to 300 for a second time), and came one off from being tied for the league lead in wins. It would not be his last Cy Young.

Even though Randy Johnson was one of the best pitchers in the three seasons between 1993-1995, nobody was even thinking 300. He was a relative late-bloomer who didn't win his first major league game until five days after his 25th birthday, and who wasn't even 1/3 of the way to 300 at the age of 32. He won the 100th game of his career with a non-Big Unit-like performance over the Brewers on April 6, 1996, where he struck out six, walked six, and allowed four runs. But he won because opponent Steve Sparks allowed 5 runs in the first. (Randy struck out 14 in 7 innings while allowing only two runs in the start before, which shows the fickleness of the win statistic.) As it turned out, Randy was pitching with major back pain from a herniated disk, where the annulus fibrosis was sticking out and impinging on his spinal cord. He was placed on the disabled list in mid-May, and didn't come back until August, and even then in a limited, relief role. (He recorded his first career save on August 13, pitching four scoreless innings against the Royals where he struck out six to preserve a win for Terry Mulholland.) It was the first of a long history of back problems, and further discouraged his changes of getting to 300.

After a long and painful recovery period, a healthy Randy Johnson stormed back in a big way in 1997. He won his first four decisions to extend his winning streak to 16, and then struck out 19 without a walk in a start against the Oakland Athletics on June 24. However, he allowed two home runs and was saddled with the loss. Unsatisfied with the results, he stuck out 19 batters again on August 8 against the White Sox. He walked three, but still earned a complete game shutout for his 120th career win. He earned his 19th win of the year in the team's 158th game, but he didn't have any more scheduled starts to reach the magical 20 win mark for the first time in his career. So on the second to the last game of the year against the A's, Lou Piniella sent Randy to the mound for the fifth and the sixth with the Mariners leading 7-2 after four. Randy responded with three strikeouts over two innings, and thanks to rule 10.17(b) he was credited with his 20th win of the year. Along the way, his final strikeout of September call-up Ben Grieve was the 2,000th of his career. Johnson ended the season 20-4 with 291 strikeouts and a 2.28 ERA, ye he didn't lead the league in any of the Triple Crown categories. A revived Roger Clemens won 21 games with 292 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA for the Blue Jays. The Mariners won the division, although Randy was hit hard in both appearances and the Mariners lost to the Orioles in four games.

Even though Randy had helped the Mariners to two playoff appearances in three years, and was their first 20-game winner and Cy Young winner, relationships were getting to be a little cold between the two parties. Randy's salary had ballooned $350,000 in 1991 to over $6 million in 1997, and he was due to become a free agent at the end of the season. The Mariners were a small market team with another superstar (Ken Griffey Jr.), and they knew they couldn't keep both. The Mariners front office made no secrets that they were trying to trade him for prospects over the 1997 off-season. They couldn't get a deal done in the winter (rejecting a deal that included Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera), but when Randy stumbled out of the gate to a 9-10 record with a 4.33 ERA (but with 213 strikeouts in 160 innings), the Mariners made their move. Nine years after picking up their ace in a trade for three prospects, they traded him to the Astros on July 31 for three pitching prospects.

The last time Randy Johnson pitched in the National League in 1989, he was lit up to the tune of a 6.67 ERA. This time, a more mature Randy Johnson dominated National League hitters. He made 11 starts with the Astros, and went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA. He struck out 116 to give him 329 for the year (the second time he reached 300), and helped the Astros win 102 games to run away with the NL Central title. He continued to dominate in the playoffs, posting a 1.93 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 14 innings against the Padres. But the vaunted Astros offense disappeared, and Randy was saddled with two losses for a second straight season. Nevertheless, his successful half season increased his stock when he became a free agent at the end of the 1998 season. In the end he signed with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for $53 million.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were an expansion team in 1998 and went 65-97. In 1999, they won 100 games and won the NL West title. Randy Johnson was a key contributor to the improved team. He continued to feast on hapless National League hitters, reaching double digits in strikeouts 23 times in 35 starts. He ended the season with 364 strikeouts in 271.3 innings, the fourth best strikeout totals in the 20th century. He also led the National League with a 2.48 ERA. He only won 17 games because the Diamondbacks weren't always able to score enough runs for him, but one of those wins was his 150th career win, an interleague win over the Texas Rangers on June 4. His performance sufficiently impressed the BBWAA, and they awarded him his second Cy Young award over 22-game winner Mike Hampton. However, he struggled against in the playoffs, losing his only start as the Diamondbacks lost to the Mets.

Randy Johnson was very good again in 2000. He struck out 347 hitters in only 248.7 innings (a K/9 ratio that was actually better than his 1999 season). One of those strikeouts was his 3,000th strikeout of his career, which he reached in the middle of a 14-strikeout performance against the Marlins on September 10, 2000 when he struck out Mike Lowell. However, he had to settle for a no-decision in the game when a crucial error by Greg Colbrunn led to two unearned runs. Johnson had only 19 wins at the end of the season, and his 2.64 ERA finished second to Kevin Brown's 2.58, but he was able to win his second straight Cy Young.

The following year, Randy was pitching in a spring training game when he threw a pitch that struck a swooping dove. The bird exploded in a burst of feathers. The freak incident made it all over the sports replays, and seemed to foreshadow that 2001 would be a year to remember for Randy. He was red hot in the regular season, reaching double digit strikeouts eight times in his first nine starts, including a start against the Reds on May 8 where he struck out 20 in nine innings, tying the record established by Kerry Wood and future 300-game winner Roger Clemens. He ended up with 372 strikeouts, just short of the mark of 383 set by Nolan Ryan, but he did so in 249.7 innings, 76.3 fewer than Ryan. His K/9 mark of 13.41 was highest of all time, and he was able to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career, winning his 21st game on his final start of the season, a 10-1 win over Mike Hampton and the Colorado Rockies on October 2, 2001 that was the 200th of his career. His 2.49 ERA also led the league, and only a 22-win season by Matt Morris and teammate Curt Schilling, acquired from the Phillies in mid-2000, kept Randy from winning the pitching Triple Crown, but he was still able to cruise to his third straight Cy Young award

But it was October that really made 2001 a special season for Randy Johnson. The post-season has been a thorn to Randy. Since getting the win in the final game of the 1995 ALDS, he lost a record six post-season games in a row. His post-season got off on sour start as he lost to the Cardinals to make it seven straight, but the Diamondbacks managed to win the series. Randy was tabbed with the start in the first game of the ALCS against the Atlanta Braves, and he responded by pitching a complete-game shutout, striking out 11. He started again in Game 5 with the Diamondbacks up 3-1 and wasn't quite as dominating, giving up two runs in seven innings, but the Diamondbacks scored three runs off of future 300-game winner Tom Glavine, and the Diamondbacks won the pennant. Their opponent in the World Series turned out to be the New York Yankees.

The Yankees had won three World Series in a row, and were itching to get their fourth. However, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling put a dent in their title hopes with dominating wins in the first two games, with Randy tossing a complete game shutout in Game 2. However, the Yankees squeezed out wins in Games 3-5, including the famous Game 4 home run by Derek Jeter shortly after the clock struck midnight of November 1. Randy came on in Game 6 pitched his way to an easy 15-2 victory to force a Game 7. The seventh game started off as a tense pitching duel between Schilling and Roger Clemens. The Yankees took a 2-1 lead on Alfonso Soriano's home run in the eighth. Three batters later, Randy Johnson came out on zero day's rest and gotten four outs without allowing a baserunner. The Diamondbacks came out in the bottom of the 9th and rallied against Mariano Rivera to give Johnson his third win of the series, and the Diamondbacks the World Series title in only their fourth season of existence. For his efforts, Johnson won the MVP title with Schilling, and at the end of the year the two were named Sportsmen of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

It's hard to top a season like 2001, but Randy did his best to do so. He won his first six starts of the season, including a 17-strikeout performance against the Rockies on April 21. He reached 15 wins before the beginning of August, prompting talks of him being the first 25-game winner since Bob Welch in 1990. Randy fell short in the end with 24 wins, but he won his final five starts, including another 17-strikeout performance against the Brewers on September 14. His 2.32 ERA led the league and was the lowest in his four years with the Diamondbacks. He struck out 334, making it his 5th straight season with at least 300 strikeouts. (Teammate Curt Schilling struck out 316, making it the first time two pitchers on the same team struck out 300). He won the pitcher's Triple Crown, and won his fourth straight Cy Young, joining future 300-game winner Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to do so. He also won the award unanimously for the first time. Alas, he went back to his post-season struggles, pitching poorly in the Division Series, and the Diamondbacks were eliminated by the Cardinals.

2003 turned out to be a disappointing year for Randy. He lost two of his first three starts, including a start on April 11 where he allowed 10 runs in 4.7 innings. Later that month, he was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right knee. He was out until July. The one bright spot for Randy in the season came on September 19, when he launched his first career home run against Doug Davis. He became the tallest player ever to hit a home run. 2004 ended up being another bittersweet year for Randy. He struck out 290 hitters in 245.7 innings, and posted a 2.60 ERA that was second to Jake Peavy's 2.27. However, the Arizona Diamondbacks team that won the World Series only three years earlier became the worst team in the majors, finishing at 51-111. So despite the gaudy statistics, Randy Johnson finished with a 16-14 record, and finished second in the Cy Young vote to Roger Clemens.

Yet not even Roger Clemens can do what Randy did on May 18, 2004. He was 3-4 despite a 2.83 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 54 innings, and was facing the Braves, a team that had given him the fits in the past. Randy had no trouble that night, however. The Braves went down one-two-three in the first inning, and then the second, and then the third. By the seventh, it became clear that Randy Johnson was working on a perfect game. The Braves went down in order in the seventh, and then the eighth, and Randy Johnson issued the coup de grace by striking out pinch hitter Eddie Perez. He faced 27 batters and retired them all. It was the 17th perfect game, and first since David Cone accomplished the feat in July of 1999. He struck out 13, the most in a perfect game since Sandy Koufax's in 1965. A month and a half later, Randy struck out Jeff Cirillo of the Padres to record the 4,000th strikeout of his career. He allowed three runs in the game. The Diamondbacks scored only two, and Randy was saddled with the loss. That happened a lot that year.

Randy Johnson turned 41 years old in the 2004 season. That brought up questions as to whether or not he has enough left in the tank to contribute to the Diamondbacks' future, and whether or not he wanted to help with the Diamondbacks' rebuilding phase. In the end, the Diamondbacks worked out a deal to send Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez and two prospects. Shortly after the deal was announced, Randy was walking down a street with a Yankees official when he had an alteration with a cameraman. The incident foreshadowed the fact that his years with the Yankees won't be as smooth as with the Diamondbacks. Randy struggled in his return to the American League, culminating with a start on May 15 against the Athletics where he didn't strike out anybody, only the second time since 1989 that he struck out zero in a start. However, the Yankees rallied for a 6-4 victory and Randy got the win, the 250th of his career.

With 250 wins on his belt, people were starting to consider the possibility that Johnson may get to 300 wins, especially after he ended the 2005 season with 17 wins. He won 17 games again in 2006, but that was more of a product of the Yankees' offensive might than his abilities as a pitcher. His ERA soared to a career high 5.00. He pitched poorly in the Division Series in 2005 against the Angels, and even worse in 2006 against the Tigers. As it turned out the herniated disc problems that sidelined Randy in 1996 were back again, and he needed surgery to correct it in after the 2006 season. Furthermore, Randy's older brother Greg passed away in the off-season, and he felt he needed to get closer to home in Phoenix. So in January 2007, the Yankees and the Diamondbacks worked out a five-person trade that would send Randy back to the Diamondbacks.

Randy returned to the Diamondbacks needing only 20 wins to get to the 300 milestone, but he ended up missing most of April 2007 to rehab from the offseason back surgery, and pitched poorly in his first few starts back. He started to get back in the groove on May 15, 2007, two years after his 250th career win. He struck out nine Rockies in six scoreless innings to record his 281st career win. He put up tremendous numbers in his next four starts before his back started to bother him again. He went on the DL to rehab in mid-June, but lasted only three innings in his first start back. After trying to get back to the field with more rehab, Randy decided to make the fateful decision to have surgery on the disk again, effectively putting his quest for 300 on hold for the rest of the 2007 season. The surgery happened on August 3, 2007. Two days later, Tom Glavine won his 300th game.

Randy Johnson turned 44 on September 10, 2007. Analysis were doubtful that he had enough left to win 16 games to get to 300 wins. They were thinking that his 2008 comeback would be disastrous, and Randy would join Bobby Mathews, Tommy John, Bert Blyleven, Robin Roberts, Tony Mullane, Ferguson Jenkins, and Jim Kaat as players who reached 280 wins but could never get to the ultimate goal of 300. But Randy Johnson had promised his father that he would be the best pitcher that he could be, and by golly he wasn't going to break it just because he was almost 50 and coming off of his second back surgery in 12 months. He won a spot in the 2008 starting rotation, and pitched well, even if he wasn't the Big Unit of old. He won four games from April 25 through May 18 to get to 288, and followed it up with two good starts that ended up as no-decisions. Along the way, he tied and passed Roger Clemens for second place on the all-time strikeouts list for the second time. (He had passed the Rocket in 2007, but Roger came back and reclaimed the lead while Randy was on the DL.)

Randy ran into a rough patch in June when he lost six straight starts and saw his ERA rise from 3.83 to 5.46, but followed it up with a series of good starts that brought his win totals up to 294 on August 12. People were speculating that with a fast finish, he could get to 300 before the end of the year, but then he entered into a pitching purgatory. The Diamondbacks never scored when he pitched well, and he didn't always pitch well. Twice in the month of September, he went at least six innings and allowed only a run, but ended up with no-decisions. His left with the lead four times and his bullpen blew the lead every time. At last, on September 28, 2008 - the final game of the season - he took matters into their own hand. He threw a complete game against the Rockies, allowing only one unearned run in a 2-1 win, leaving him only five wins from 300.

Randy Johnson would be 45 years old in 2009, and the Diamondbacks decided that the increase in attendance they may get as Randy chased 300th win would not offset the money they would spend giving him a new contract, and so Randy became a free agent for the first time in ten years. The San Francisco Giants were a team with a solid young rotation with Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and 2008 Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. What they needed was a veteran presence to guide the young pitchers. Plus, the Giants saw a drop in attendance by 360,000 with the retirement of Barry Bonds, and Randy's quest for 300 may help bring interest to the team. So they offered Randy an $8 million contract. He signed to stay on the west coast and in the National League. Randy made the starting rotation out of spring training, and so he would be chasing 300 with the San Francisco Giants.

Sources: I never expected that this would turn out to be a 6,000-word biography about Randy Johnson, but I suppose my decision to make this a series inspired me to write more. Randy Johnson's life is interesting, but I probably made it into a boring mess of numbers and empty phrases rather than a look into Johnson's enigmatic side, or what drives a guy to keep chugging along despite three back surgeries, but that's the concessions you have to make when you have only one day to write a biography. Many sources turned out to be useful, so much so that I probably ought to write a proper bibliography for this thing. I relied on Randy Johnson's book Randy Johnson's Power Pitching, and his profile on jockbio for his early life. I used The Baseball Cube for his minor league stats, and Baseball Reference for his major league stats. (Gamelogs and the play index are very helpful.) I relied on Sports Illustrated for many individual stories, like the one about his father's death came from Tom Verducci's "The Power of Two" for the 2001 Sportsman of the Year issue. Matt Christopher's On the Mound with Randy Johnson was a good resource about his 1992 meeting with Nolan Ryan and Tom House. Finally, some of the more recent articles came on MLB.com. The next three parts was about my own personal experiences, and so there wouldn't be that much need for resources. Thankfully.

Part III: The Set-Up

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