- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

PHOENIX Throughout his career, Randy Johnson has always been the unquestioned ace of his team's pitching staff, be it during his 10 brilliant years in Seattle, his brief two-month appearance in Houston or his first three years with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Then a funny thing happened. Curt Schilling started tossing complete-game shutouts in the postseason, led his team to its first National League championship and beat the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.
Johnson, one of the two or three most dominating pitchers in the last decade but a slouch when it came to the playoffs, was a forgotten man. And yet, deep down, something led you to believe the "Big Unit" still had a big October game in him.
Like a three-hit shutout of the three-time defending World Series champions.
That masterpiece, coupled with Danny Bautista's clutch double and Matt Williams' three-run homer gave the Diamondbacks a 4-0 victory in Game 2 last night and a 2-0 series lead over the stunned Yankees.
"We are down, there's no question," New York manager Joe Torre said. "You can't lose two games in a seven-game series and not feel the effects."
Coming into the series, the Diamondbacks knew if they got two wins apiece from their pair of aces, the title was theirs. The fourth-year franchise is now halfway to its goal, having thrilled back-to-back crowds of 49,646 at Bank One Ballpark with back-to-back pitching gems against the Bronx Bombers.
"These two guys are as dominating as anybody, and it's exciting to see," Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo said. "To see these two aces put together back-to-back wins against the defending champions, it's just great."
At the very least, Arizona knows the Yankees cannot win the series without coming back to the desert for a Game 6 and facing both Schilling and Johnson again. At the very best, the Diamondbacks could shock New York by winning two of three at Yankee Stadium this week and celebrating their first World Series title in the House That Ruth Built.
"This is what every player in that clubhouse has waited for," Johnson said. "There are a few, five, who have been to a World Series. But this is everybody's dream, to be here and to be playing the Yankees. It's the biggest stage in sports."
The 38-year-old Johnson was absolutely magnificent in the first Series start of his career, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning, walking one and striking out 11. His dazzling display of velocity, movement and location left more than a few Yankee batters shaking their heads in awe, not to mention his own teammates.
"Randy Johnson has a tendency to put you to sleep out there," said Williams, who successfully fielded six groundballs hit in his direction. "Because you don't expect the opposing team to hit the ball."
With the exception of an occasional change-up, Johnson is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, each equally imposing for the hitter. His fastball Johnson affectionately refers to it as "Mr. Snappy" comes at the batter high and hard, in the neighborhood of 97 to 98 mph. His primary off-speed pitch (it still crosses the plate at 89 mph) has been called a "back-foot" slider, because it breaks so hard and so late that it nearly hits a right-handed batter on his right (back) foot.
Johnson had both pitches working to perfection last night. He struck out Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter on fastballs in the first inning, then opened the second by catching Bernie Williams looking at a third-strike slider that landed near Williams' back foot yet still managed to nip a corner of the plate.
"He seemed a lot more calm, cool and collected out there," Arizona catcher Damian Miller said. "I just try to stay with his strengths at all times."
By the time New York pitcher Andy Pettitte (the only left-handed batter in Torre's lineup) flung helplessly at two heaters before watching strike three sail past him to end the third inning, Johnson had seven "K's" posted on the ballpark strikeout meter, not to mention one-third of a perfect game.
Randy Velarde, getting a rare start at first base in place of left-handed-hitting Tino Martinez, drew a one-out walk in the fourth, and Jorge Posada singled through the right-side hole in the fifth to break up the no-hitter, but Johnson never let up. He went the distance, allowing two more singles and finishing the night having thrown an economical 110 pitches.
"He is getting better and better," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "This guy, he has always had the physical skills and the pitches to dominate hitters, but he's very relaxed and focused in the zone right now."
Left in the shadow of his 6-foot-10 counterpart, Pettitte was authoring a brilliant game of his own. Through five innings, the Yankee southpaw had thrown 51 pitches an astounding 42 of them for strikes, nine for balls.
But where Johnson dominated the entire evening, Pettitte had a brief lapse in the second and another in the seventh, and the Diamondbacks made him pay for it. Reggie Sanders led off the second with a single to left, and Bautista starting in center field in place of Steve Finley followed with a shot to the gap in right-center. Sanders raced around to score, and Bautista wound up at third, making Brenly look like a genius yet again.
Brenly chose to start Bautista for Finley in Game 5 of the NLCS against Braves left-hander Tom Glavine, citing one of his everpresent hunches. The journeyman outfielder proved his manager's hunch correct that night, driving in the Diamondbacks' first run in the 3-2 series-clinching victory, and did it again last night, driving in the game's first run.
"It's nothing I am doing," Brenly said. "It's the way they are going about their business and the way they are taking over situations when I call upon them."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide