- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

ATLANTA — Randy Johnson had pretty much done it all — Cy Young Awards, a no-hitter, strikeout records, a World Series championship.

Only one thing was missing in his brilliant career, that rarest of pitching feats. And last night, at the age of 40, the Big Unit took care of that, too. Johnson became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game, retiring all 27 hitters to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Atlanta Braves 2-0.

“A game like this was pretty special,” said Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner. “It doesn’t come along very often.”

It was the 17th perfect game in major league history, the 15th since the modern era began in 1900 and the first since the New York Yankees’ David Cone against Montreal on July 18, 1999.

“Everything he’s done up to this point pales in comparison,” Arizona manager Bob Brenly said.

Johnson struck out 13 and went to three balls on one hitter, Johnny Estrada in the second inning. Estrada fouled off three straight 3-2 pitches before going down swinging.

Late in the game, Johnson sat stoically in the dugout, staring at the ground with his eyes closed, appearing to be almost asleep.

“It didn’t faze me,” the left-hander said. “Winning the game was the biggest, most important thing.”

His manager was a lot more nervous. From the sixth inning on, Brenly remained frozen in the same spot — sitting on the bat rack, tapping Matt Kata’s bat with his knuckles while following one of baseball’s oldest superstitions of not mentioning a perfect game or no-hitter for fear of jinxing the pitcher.

“This is one of those nights where a superior athlete was on top of his game,” Brenly said. “There was a tremendous rhythm out there. His focus, his concentration, his stuff, everything was as good as it could possibly be.”

Cy Young, then 37, had been the oldest to throw a perfect game, doing it in 1904.

Johnson sure didn’t act his age, getting stronger as the game went along on a pleasantly warm night in Atlanta.

“Not bad for being 40 years old,” he said. “Everything was locked in.”

While it was the first perfect game of Johnson’s career, it was his second no-hitter. He no-hit Detroit for Seattle on June 2, 1990, walking six.

“That was far from perfect,” he recalled. “I was a very young pitcher who didn’t have any idea where the ball was going. I was far from being a polished pitcher. Fourteen years later, I’ve come a long way as far as knowing what I want to do.”

It was the longest span between a pair of no-hitters by a pitcher in baseball history.

Former teammate Curt Schilling, who teamed with Johnson to lead the Diamondbacks to the World Series championship in 2001, watched the final two innings on a television at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Schilling now plays for the Boston Red Sox, who had a game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

“Guys that play the game at that level … do things other people don’t dream of doing,” Schilling said. “They push themselves. That’s what he’s done.”

Johnson is back on his game after enduring an injury plagued, 6-8 season in 2003.

“He’s been pitching great,” Schilling said. “I just want to find all those people that were talking about the end of his career last winter.”

Appropriately, Johnson struck out the final batter, pinch-hitter Eddie Perez, with a 98 mph fastball.

Johnson pumped his fist and raised his glove in the air, but his teammates seemed even more excited. He started to put out his right hand when Robby Hammock arrived at the mound, but the young catcher — a foot shorter than Johnson — gave the pitcher a bear hug instead.

Within seconds, Johnson was mobbed by the rest of his teammates.

“He could smell it at the end,” Estrada said.

The crowd of 23,381 at Turner Field gave Johnson a standing ovation as he walked slowly toward the dugout. He waved in several directions before disappearing down the tunnel.

“Randy! Randy! Randy!” the fans chanted.

He became only the fifth pitcher to throw no-hitters in both the National and American leagues, joining Young, Jim Bunning, Hideo Nomo and Nolan Ryan.

The crowd sensed history in the making when J.D. Drew grounded out to end the eighth. The Atlanta fans gave Johnson (4-4) a standing ovation as he trudged off the mound, then another when he batted in the ninth.

While the Braves hit several balls hard off Johnson, the closest thing to a hit was a slow roller by Johnson’s Atlanta counterpart, Mike Hampton, in the sixth. Alex Cintron scooped up the ball and threw out Hampton by a half-step.

Johnson lingered near the third-base line, giving Cintron a pat with the glove as he ran off the field.

Cintron also was the offensive hero, driving in Arizona’s first run and scoring the other.

There were few other close calls against Johnson. Atlanta’s first hitter, Jesse Garcia, led off with a bunt toward first and tried to reach with a headfirst slide, but Shea Hillenbrand managed to make the tag. In the fifth, Drew hit a liner toward the right-field corner, only to have Danny Bautista make a basket catch.

“This was a legitimate perfect game, any way you slice it,” Estrada said.

Johnson threw the first no-hitter in Seattle history and now he’s pulled off the same feat for a different team. This was the first no-hitter for Arizona, which joined the major leagues in 1998.

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