Friday, December 04, 2009

Randy Johnson's 300th Win Part V: The Game

After 18,000 words in four days, we finally get to the main event: Randy Johnson's 300th win. I apologize for boring you with so much excess detail in Parts I-IV, but I feel that it helps to set up the actual game. Besides, the only people that will actually read this thing are my sister and me. (You can prove me wrong by leaving a comment. You can make it as nasty as you want.) Anyways, a note to all of the #nintendo people who probably won't read this: The title wasn't deliberate, but I did notice it when I was getting ready to write it. And I have just one thing to say about it: ha ha!

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
Part IV: The Rainout
Part V: The Game
Part VI: The Aftermath (Coming sometime June 4, 2010 because I'm a lazy bum)

Or The Game Where Randy Johnson Becomes the 24th Player to Reach 300 Wins

It was 5:12 by the time Jordan Zimmermann threw the first pitch (a called strike vs. Aaron Rowand) in front of a crowd of about 3,000. (The crowd would never seem to rise above 7,000, although since most people were sitting underneath the concourse, the stands seem even more bare than it actually is.) The top of the first was relatively uneventful, although it did show why Zimmermann is one of the Nationals' top prospects. He struck out Rowand and Edgar Renteria on nasty breaking balls, and induced Randy Winn to ground out to first baseman Nick Johnson. Sure, he threw a lot of pitches, but the results were what the Nationals front office were hoping to see. Michael owned Zimmermann on his fantasy team, and during the Renteria at bat I asked if he was starting Zimmermann. Michael said no, since he didn't want to root against Randy, but he was regretting the move when Renteria was called out on strikes. I missed the first pitch, and moving from the pitcher to the batter was a little bit difficult on such a cold day, but I was still getting the game on camera.

In the second inning, I decided to use my sister's camera to take a couple of close-up pictures of Randy. She has a Sony Cyber-shot DST-T200, and it has the option to take pictures continuously if you hold down the button to take pictures. I used it to get good pictures of Greg Maddux. However, I realized it was difficult to take pictures and film the game, so I gave up and focused only on pictures for the Nationals' first batter, Alberto Gonzalez, who grounded to short, and then continued to use my sister's camera for filming in that half-inning. Nick Johnson gave the Giants fans a scare when he lifted a line drive to center field that seemed like it would drop for a double, but Aaron Rowand came rushing over and made a diving, backhanded grab that robbed Nick Johnson of a hit. It was the first of three great plays that the Giants would make for Randy Johnson. Ryan Zimmerman grounded to second to get Randy out of the first.

The Giants were surprisingly in second place in the NL West, but they had the worst offense in the division. You can't win in baseball without scoring any runs, and Randy needed runs to get the win. When Bengie Molina struck out - Zimmermann's third strikeout in four batters - it seems like it's going to be a rough night for the Giants offense. But then Fred Lewis lined a single to center, and Travis Ishikawa poked a double down the right field line that barely eluded the glove of first baseman Nick Johnson. Lewis raced around third, but had to put on the brakes when third base coach Tim Flannery threw up the stop sign. People around us were yelling for him to go home, but Kearns was on the ball and Lewis would have been out. It didn't matter as the next batter, Juan Uribe, hit a sharp ground ball to the right side that scored Lewis. And then second baseman Emmanuel Burriss dumped a single into center after falling behind 0-2 to make the score 2-0! Randy Johnson struck out to end the inning, but we were all pleased. One run was a pleasant surprise with such a wimpy Giants lineup. And two runs were a miracle!

Randy Johnson quickly fell behind Adam Dunn 3-0 in the bottom of the second, (although with no outs, it gave me a chance to capture the milestone that Randy was going for on the scoreboard), but then he came right back and struck Dunn out with Mr. Snappy, his legendary slider. And after Elijah Dukes bounced out to third, Randy struck out Austin Kearns on three straight fastballs for his second strikeout of the inning, and the 4,845th of his career.

When the third inning started, I noticed that the camera was zoomed out, and it became blurry when I zoomed in. I wanted to see what was wrong, but then Zimmermann started pitching to Aaron Rowand, and there was nothing more I could do about it if I didn't want to miss the game. And thankfully I decided not to, because on Zimmermann's second pitch to Rowand, Rowand lifted a foul ball that drifted towards us. In the second inning, Bengie Molina had hit a foul ball that came our way, but it landed in the section next to ours and bounced away . This one seemed to come straight towards fact, it was heading towards the row behind us. I was holding the camera and couldn't do anything about it, but Matt climbed over his chair and made a nifty bare-handed catch. None of us had ever caught a foul ball in a major league contest before, and to get our first one in what could be Randy Johnson's 300th win...that was beyond amazing. Later, a cameraman took a picture of Matt posing with the ball and Michael smiling happily beside him. It was such a great picture that I had to spend the $23 and buy it. (I was also in the picture, holding an umbrella to keep the rain off of the cameras.)

The rest of the inning was uneventful. Rowand ended up grounding out to third, Renteria struck out for the second time, and Winn bounced out to first. In the bottom of the third, Randy Johnson retired the side on eight pitches on two groundouts to shortstop Renteria and a one-hop bouncer to the pitcher. By then, both pitchers had faced the opposing lineup at least once. While Zimmermann had that rocky patch in the second where he had trouble hitting his locations, both pitchers were pitching very well. As the game moved into the fourth, it would be how the pitchers do on the second trip around the lineup that may determine what the score may be when the game goes to the bullpen.

The Giants' second inning offensive outbrust had spoiled me, and I was hoping that they could add some insurance runs to make Randy's win more certain, but Zimmermann made it seem like that second inning was a fluke. He retired the Giants in order, with another strikeout of Molina, a groundout to short, and a flyout to left. The strikeout of Molina was Zimmermann's sixth of the game. I began to jokingly needle Michael about keeping Zimmermann on the bench, although I admit that I left Roy Oswalt on the bench the night before when he had a great game.

In the bottom of the fourth, the game still had that blurry effect on my camera. After a few pitches to Nick Johnson, I realized the reason why. It all depends on how much the camera is zoomed in when you press record. When you're zoomed in all the way, you can zoom in or out and maintain good quality. However, if you start recording when you're zoomed out, it will be blurry when you zoom in. Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to zoom in on Randy as far as I can. And then at that time, Ryan showed up, wearing one of those Nationals parkas I bought on June 2. His entrance was such a monumental moment that Comcast Sports Network Bay Area made a cut to us just to see it unfold. Ryan remarked that it seemed most people was cheering for Randy, but where we were sitting it seemed about 50/50. That's what happens when you sit behind the home team's dugout.

Anyways, Randy had been perfect through 3.3 innings, thanks to Aaron Rowand's nice grab of Nick Johnson's liner. Now Randy was ahead of Nick 1-2, and I decided to zoom in as much as I can for the next two pitches. Both of them were balls. The first one was extremely close, much to our chagrin, but Tim Timmons was the home plate umpire, and he was one that even I heard of and in a good way, so we can't quibble with his calls. Nick Johnson ended up with a walk. It was a bit discouraging to see Randy walk Nick to end the perfect game. And the next batter was Ryan Zimmerman, who as Ryan Halferty noted has a tendency to hit home runs. I should know, as Zimmerman was the one who hit the walk-off home run to give 王建民 a loss in a game I saw on June 18, 2006. But the results were better for Randy, as Zimmerman flied to right. And then Adam Dunn popped out to third, and Randy still had the 2-0 lead.

The Giants continued their increasingly futile efforts to score more runs off of Jordan Zimmermann in the fifth. Juan Uribe hit what might have been the hardest ball of the night to lead off the inning, but it was heading to center so it didn't even get to the warning track. And then Zimmermann had no problem in disposing of Emmanuel Burris and Randy Johnson with a groundout to pitcher and a strikeout respectively, although Randy managed to work the count full before getting called out on strikes, giving Zimmermann seven strikeouts. He had also retired the Giants in order after the rocky second. Most people pitch worse in the second go-around.

Randy Johnson may have lost his perfect game in the fourth when he walked Nick Johnson, but he still had a no-hitter going. That ended in the fifth when Elijah Dukes hit a broken bat grounder that Randy almost reached, but his 6'10" frame just kept him from getting to the ball. The remnants of the bat also came perilously close to Randy, although he was probably unaware of it. Randy proceeded to throw four straight balls against Austin Kearns, including one that got away from Bengie Molina, allowing Dukes to go to second. Randy was now in a dangerous situation, with runners on first and second with no outs. A single could make it 2-1 with no outs and still two runners on. Ronnie Belliard seemed to make that happen with a hard grounder that struck the mound and was heading towards center field. However, young Emmanuel Burriss - who grew up in the DC area - made a diving grab of Belliard's grounder. He flipped the ball to Renteria without getting up, and Renteria threw to first to complete the double play. I've never paid much attention to Web Gems, but this was without a doubt one of the top Web Gems I've seen. Not only was it a physically impressive play, but it was also crucial, preventing a situation with two runners on base with no out.

Randy was about to get out of the inning when disaster struck. Capturing videos is an extremely energy-draining activity, and so even though I had brand new batteries when the day began, the batteries of the digital camera I was using died. Even though I had two packs of four replacement batteries at the ready, I still missed it when Wil Nieves grounded out to Burriss to make it an official game.

The Giants continued in their attempt to get some more runs for Randy Johnson, but Ryan Zimmerman almost single-handedly shot down those thoughts. Rowand and Renteria hit easy ground balls to him, and then Randy Winn popped out to him in foul territory. It certainly appears as though Zimmermann's rocky second inning was a fluke. However, he won't have any more opportunities to prove himself. Anderson Hernandez came out to pinch-hit in the top of the sixth. It was a sensible decision. Even though Zimmermann was pitching well, he had thrown 92 pitches, and the Nationals were in dire need of runs. And pinch-hitter Hernandez could have gotten on base if not for a dazzling play by Randy Johnson. He hit a bouncer in about the same place as Dukes's grounder in the fifth, but he hit it high enough that Randy was able to knock it down. It rolled behind him to his left. He raced over, picked it up, and threw it to first while diving, landing awkwardly on his left shoulder. Travis Ishikawa made a fine grab, and had to back out of the way of the charging Hernandez. The stadium broke out in cheers, and Randy's play would appear on highlight reels all night.

However, Randy's very good play was offset by a very bad play. Alberto Gonzalez hit a grounder to short that Edgar Renteria fielded cleanly, but he made a low throw that got away from Ishikawa. It was clearly an error, but whose? Some people argued that Ishikawa should have gotten the ball, but Renteria's throw was low. In the end, the scorer gave the error to Renteria. Up stepped Nick Johnson, who gave Randy some trouble that day, with a well-hit lineout in the first and a walk in the fourth. He added to the damage with a double to center that scored Gonzalez. It was an unearned run, as Gonzalez reached on an error, but an unearned run is still a run. Randy got out of the inning without further damage by getting Zimmerman to ground out (with Nick going to third) and Dunn to pop out in to third in foul territory, but the lead was now down to 2-1.

We weren't sure whether or not Randy would come out for the 7th. He still had a low pitch count, but his last three innings weren't quite as good as the first three innings. Nobody gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the field probably due to the ambiguity, but we should have.

If Randy was indeed gone, the game would become a battle of the bullpens. Ron Villone stepped up to prevent the Giants from adding to their one-run lead. Villone signed with the Nationals that season and was very good as of June 4, going 3-0 and having given up no runs in 14.2 innings. And he did his job perfectly by getting Bengie Molina and Fred Lewis to make outs to Nick Johnson and striking out Travis Ishikawa. Brandon Medders came out for the Giants in the bottom of the 7th, officially signifying the end of Randy's day, and he also pitched well. He struck out Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns, and got Ronnie Belliard to pop to second.

By that time the rain had started to come down hard. The umpires conferred to decide whether or not to call the game, but they decided to keep it going, so former Royals closer Mike MacDougal came in to work the eighth. I remember MacDougal was terrible for the Royals and the White Sox for a couple of years, so I thought that the Giants may have a chance to add to the lead. However, MacDougal as also an all-star back in 2003, and he pitched like one in getting Juan Uribe to pop to first and Emmanuel Burriss to ground to second. With two outs and nobody on, Bruce Bochy let Medders go up to bat, and that led to what may be the most entertaining at bat of the day. MacDougal's first pitch was up and in and buzzed Medders. Medders was so shaken up by the pitch that he just stepped back on the next pitch as MacDougal tossed a beauty in the middle of the plate. MacDougal's third pitch went in towards Medders again, and Medders turned away from the pitch with the bat still going around to make it 1-2. And he just gave up as MacDougal tossed an easy strike to end the half-inning.

Brandon Medders's misadventure may have been beneficial to the Nationals, as they tried to make up the one-run difference to keep them from being the victim in Randy Johnson's 300th win. Medders was missing his spots, and Wil Nieves lined a solid single into center. Bochy realized what was going on and replaced Medders with veteran southpaw reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who came in to face the switch-hitting pinch-hitter, Cristian Guzman. Guzman lined the first pitch into center for the first out. The next batter, Alberto Gonzalez, hit a grounder to Renteria on a hit-and-run. Renteria's only play was at first. There were now two outs with a runner on second, but the batter was the pesky Nick Johnson, who had given the Giants trouble all day. Bochy kept Affeldt in for the lefty-lefty advantage, but Affeldt ended up walking Nick on a full count. Bochy then brought in right-handed closer Brian Wilson to face the right-handed Ryan Zimmerman to get the four-out save, but Wilson walked Zimmerman on five pitches to load the bases for the dangerous Adam Dunn.

Adam Dunn is one of the most conflicting players of this generation. He strikes out a lot and hits for a low average, but he hits a lot of home run and also regularly walks over 100 times a year. He's always struggled against Randy Johnson, but he was facing Brian Wilson for the very first time with two outs and the bases loaded in a one-run ballgame. Wilson's first pitch was a fastball high for ball 1, but he came back with two of his blazing fastballs that Dunn swung through and fouled to make it 1-2. One more strike and the Giants would be out of the inning with the lead preserved. The next pitch was at the right height but a bit outside. However, almost all of the fans were on either sides of the batter, so it looked like it was a strike. Boos rang throughout the stadium. The next pitch was just a bit outside.

This is now a definite pressure situation for Brian Wilson. He's trying to protect a one-run lead for Randy Johnson's 300th win, but he's facing the dangerous Adam Dunn with a full count and the bases loaded. He'd have to challenge Dunn, because if he throws a ball out of the strike zone expecting Dunn to chase and fails, the game would be tied and he'd become the most hated man in San Francisco, at least until Randy Johnson gets his 300th win. On the other hand, if he throws the ball where Dunn can square up on the ball, the Giants would be losing. At least with a walk the game would still be tied.

With a crowd of 7,000 generating a roar of 27,000, Bengie Molina called for a fastball down near Dunn's knees. Wilson hit the mark with a sinking fastball. Dunn thought it was low and started jogging towards first, but after a moment's pause, Tim Timmons rang him up. Strike three. An aggravated Adam Dunn went back to talk to Timmons, but que sera sera. Adam Dunn was called out on strikes, and nothing can be done about it. The tense and action-packed eighth inning had ended. The game goes into the ninth with the Giants' lead still intact. Randy Johnson can still get his 300th win.

While I didn't know it at the time (I was still celebrating the moment), there was a massive debate going on in the world wide web about the call. Some say it was the correct call. The strike zone is designated as the area between the shoulders and the knees. Replays show that the ball was clearly at the knees as it crossed the plate before ending up slightly below the knee, but where the ball was as it crossed the plate is what is important. Others counter that by saying that the strike zone is defined by the batter's natural stance. Adam Dunn is crouched at the plate, but he stands 6'6". There's no way that his knees while crouched would be at the same height as his knees in a natural stance. They say Timmons missed the call, but it was an honest mistake. Other conspiracy theorists argue that Timmons knew it was a ball, but decided that history is more important, and so rang up Adam Dunn as a way to preserve Randy Johnson's 300th win. That explains his pause before making the strike three call. I personally believe the first option. Timmons called it a strike because it was a strike. The pause is actually a practice popularized by umpire Doug Harvey to run the pitch again in his head before making the call.

Anyways, with the the crowd still in an uproar, the game moved into the top of the ninth. By then Joel Hanrahan was in the game. Hanrahan started out as the Nationals' closer, but blew several leads and found himself out of favor of manager Manny Acta. He slowly rebuilt Acta's confidence in him, and was back into working the ninth. However, the Giants finally found a pitcher they could bully. Aaron Rowand started by poking a single into center to end a streak of 19 straight hitters retired. Renteria followed with a double - the 400th of his career, as I found out yesterday - that put runners on second and third. Randy Winn drove in both runners by smacking a double that barely eluded the outstretched glove of Ryan Zimmernan to make the score 4-1. However, I missed Winn's double because the new batteries that I put in during the fifth inning had run out. I wanted to capture the final out, so I turned off the camera to preserve batteries.

The Giants, meanwhile, continued to feast on Hanrahan. Bengie Molina singled on the first pitch to put runners at the corner, and Acta had seen enough. He replaced Hanrahan with Joe Beimel, who had to face the popular young first baseman Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, pinch hitting for Lewis. Sandoval fought back from an 0-2 count to bring the count full, and he followed that with a sacrifice fly that scored Winn to make it 5-1. Pinch-hitter Andres Torres came to the plate and hit another fly ball to almost the exact same spot. Unfortunately, there was nobody on third base to drive home, and Torres got a hitless at bat. Juan Uribe grounded out to pitcher to end the half-inning and send the game to the bottom of the 9th, but not before the Giants extended their lead to four runs.

With a four-run cushion and no rain in sight (the rains had ended by the bottom of the eighth), the game took on a bit of festive atmosphere, as if the win was inevitable. Randy's son Tanner serving as a batboy had a smile the entire time, but the old man sat there stone-faced in the dugout. Brian Wilson didn't make it easy. He started out 0-2 against Elijah Dukes, but threw three straight balls to make it a full count before finally getting the strikeout. One out. Likewise, Wilson went to a 3-2 count against Austin Kearns before getting the strikeout. Two outs. With two outs, I turned the camera back on for the at-bat against Ronnie Belliard. Wilson went ahead in the count 1-2, but tormented the fans who had begun to chant "Ran-dy! Ran-dy!" by taking it into another full count, the fourth straight batter that Wilson took to 3-2. On the next pitch, Belliard hit a sharp grounder to Emmanuel Burriss. Burriss, who had robbed Belliard of a hit and turned it into a double play in the fifth, was able to knock the ball down, but he made a desperate whirl and throw, but Belliard beat out the throw barely. I thought it was an error because from my vantage point it seemed like Burriss had the ball and dropped it, but the scorer ruled it as a base hit.

So with two outs and a runner on first, up stepped Wil Nieves. Nieves hit a solid single that drove Brandon Medders out of the game, and he was hoping he can reproduce that success against Brian Wilson. The first pitch by Wilson was a 96-mph fastball that was called a strike. The second pitch by Wilson was a 97-mph fastball that Nieves could only hit foul. Once again, chants of "Ran-dy! Ran-dy!" rang out through the stadium. Even the fans who were cheering for the Nationals recognized the inevitability of the milestone and were showing their support of the Big Unit. But two men knew that there were still a chance for the Nationals to come back. One was Wil Nieves, the catcher who is the last remaining barrier between Randy Johnson and his 300th victory. The other is Randy Johnson, who sat stone-faced in the dugout watching Wilson's next move.

Bengie Molina called for a fastball on the outside of the plate. Brian Wilson aimed for the spot and pitched with all his might. Out came a 98-mph fastball. Nieves swung hopelessly and came up with nothing. Three outs.

300 wins and other milestone clubs are unique in a way. It is an achievement that one works towards throughout his entire career. Therefore even though Randy Johnson has already secured his place in history with his strikeouts, his five Cy Young awards, his 2001 World Series co-MVP, and his perfect game, he still had plenty of reasons to celebrate this victory. First of all, it is something that he had been working towards since his first victory almost 21 years ago on September 15, 1988. Second, it silenced everybody who doubted his chances to reach 300 at various times in his career, from his first back injury at 32 in 1996 to his most recent back injury at 43 in 2007. Finally, it showed his father that he had not broken his promise; that despite all of the injuries and the adversities, he made it to one of the most exclusive pitching clubs.

And yet Randy Johnson's reaction to the win was somewhat muted. I couldn't see him from where I was sitting, but when I watched the video afterward, he stood up almost mechanically and hugged his teammates before going out onto the field to mingle with the rest of his team. He also doffed his cap towards the fans behind the Giants dugout. Yet with the exception of a small smile while facing the crowd, he mostly wore the same hardened expression that he had while sitting in the dugout during the bottom of the ninth. It wasn't until his family came onto the field that be began to soften. It could be because he knew that there was another game to be played in a half hour - the second game of the doubleheader. It could be because the milestone happened in front of a crowd of 7,000 on the other side of the country rather than in front of a packed stadium at San Francisco. Or it might just because Randy Johnson is a private individual playing in an extremely public field, and he preferred to celebrate it on his own terms like Greg Maddux five years earlier.

But up in the stands, none of us really cared what was going through Randy Johnson's mind. We were happy for Randy, how he managed to overcome so much to achieve a milestone so few had achieved. We were happy for ourselves and how we had the good fortune to witness a slice of baseball history. And we were glad for having seen such a good game. And it was a good game. Despite the final score, the game was incredibly tense, featuring excellent pitching performances by both starters and great defensive plays. It is only fitting that Randy Johnson would have such a compelling game for his 300th career victory.

Sources: The CSN Bay Area broadcast of the 300th career win was definitely an important source, as well as the Baseball Reference box score and play by play of the game. Other than that, there weren't too many resources. I seemed to have gotten too bogged down in the play by play and neglected the emotional aspects of the game, which is too bad. There will be a Part VI, but since I have to start studying cardio that I've been neglecting, I don't know when it'll go up, but hopefully Parts I-V are enough to keep you occupied.

Anyways, here are select highlights from the game...basically the plays that I recorded that are clear enough or interesting enough. It's got about 70% of the plays, but I wish it could be 100%. :(

And of course...the Wins of Randy Johnson:

And if you can't see the videos because you're reading this on Facebook, head over to the blogspot entry to see it.

Part VI: The Aftermath

No comments: