- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Two players or more precisely, two arms will help determine the course of the baseball playoffs. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks have been more dominant than any duo in at least the past 50 years and maybe in baseball history. And they have one thing working for them that most of the best pitching pairs haven't had: fear.
Sure the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s had Don Drysdale, who wasn't against sending a message to opposing teams with an occasional beanball, and Sandy Koufax, the league's dominant pitcher early in that decade.
And yes, the 1948 Boston Braves had the impressive Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, which begat the cutesy saying of "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."
However, the Diamondbacks and their fans who last year came up with "Johnson and Schilling and the Good Lord willing" realize they don't need divine intervention during the playoffs. They've got intimidation on their side, thanks to the 6-foot-10 Johnson's menacing stare and near 100 mph fastball and Schilling's wicked splitter and bulldog attitude.
The numbers don't lie either.
Last year Johnson and Schilling combined for a 43-12 record with a 2.74 ERA in 506 innings for Arizona, which posted a team record of 92-70. Do the math: The Diamondbacks were 49-58 in games where Johnson or Schilling did not get the decision.
In the postseason, the two combined for a 9-1 record with a 1.30 ERA in 89 innings to lead the Diamondbacks to a World Series title over the defending champion New York Yankees.
"When you throw those two guys out there, you like your chances," said Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez in an understatement of impressive proportions.
This season the two have a 47-12 mark, virtually assuring the Diamondbacks of the National League West title. Arizona is 58-15 in games the two have started compared with 38-49 in other games. The twin aces have just about put to rest any debate about which pair was the best of all time. They are the first duo to register 300 strikeouts each in the same season.
Johnson, 39, is 24-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 334 strikeouts. He was 11-1 in his last 13 starts and 5-0 in September. For the first time in his career, he won pitching's triple crown, leading the NL in victories (24), strikeouts (334) and ERA (2.37). He threw eight complete games, five in his last 12 starts.
"I think this year has been better than last year," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said of Johnson. "I think the experiences he went through last year made him a better pitcher, and he realizes now, I believe, that he's got other ways to get hitters out. If you have to face him, that's a terrifying thought."
Johnson moved up to No.4 on the career strikeout list and became the first pitcher to fan at least 300 in five consecutive seasons (nobody else has done more than three in a row). His ERA was his lowest since 1997.
Meanwhile, Schilling, 35, is 23-7 with a 3.14 ERA and 315 strikeouts, and appeared on his way to his first Cy Young Award when he went 12-1 in his first 13 starts and was 21-4 on Aug.21. At the time he had more wins than walks (20). He struggled to a 2-3 record in his last seven starts, but that doesn't mean he won't be ready for this week's playoffs.
The dynamic duo is a force of nature in baseball, feared by opposing teams.
"To have two pitchers of that quality on one team is something that rarely comes along," said Syd Thrift, the Baltimore Orioles vice president of baseball operations who has been in the game for more than 50 years. "You've got to go back a ways to find any two who dominated like [Johnson and Schilling], and I'm not sure they dominated the way these two gentlemen have done."
So where do Johnson and Schilling rank among the great pitching combination of all time? There have been plenty of impressive performances over the years.
The most recent duo who combined for an elite season were Bob Welch (27-6) and Dave Stewart (22-11) for the Oakland Athletics in 1990. But generally, the duo at the top of the list has always been Koufax and Drysdale, who led the Dodgers to three National League pennants and two World Series triumphs from 1963 to 1966. Over that run, they were a combined 170-78, but it was not an equal share of domination. Koufax had a 97-27 record while Drysdale was 73-51.
Their best combined season came in '65, when the Dodgers defeated the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. Koufax and Drysdale won 49 games and had a 2.39 ERA but struck out 73 fewer batters in 137 more innings pitched than Johnson and Schilling did last year.
Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, a member of the 1971 Baltimore rotation that had four 20-game winners, believes Johnson and Schilling may be in a class by themselves sort of like Koufax I and Koufax II.
"Schilling and Randy Johnson are both equally dominating," Palmer said. "Not only will they get you out, but if you don't have a very good self image, you're going to be in trouble. You'll lose your confidence. You just don't get good swings. Guys had good swings with me, maybe they would pop it up or something, but those guys dominate."
That is what makes Johnson and Schilling so mesmerizing: Either can strike out 12 in a game. There is no finesse involved, as there has been over the duration of the successful tandem of Atlanta's Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who have won six Cy Youngs between them and had a remarkable combined record of 327-149 over nine seasons through Friday. But as successful as they have been, they don't strike fear into the hearts of batters like Schilling and Johnson and they don't carry the team on their backs like Johnson and Schilling carry the Diamondbacks.
"Everybody contributes on this team, but we all benefit a ton from Curt and Randy," Gonzalez told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We give them an awful lot of responsibility. They're a couple of thoroughbreds, and we ride them as hard as possible."
But can they continue their postseason domination? They shared the World Series MVP last season, and many baseball observers see them as the Diamondbacks' only hope something that bothers both.
"That's not the case," Johnson said. "We need to continue doing the things that got us here. The people we lost are irreplaceable. [Gonzalez] was the hero last year. [Craig] Counsell was the hero last year. Now someone else will have an opportunity to be a hero."
Brenly agrees.
"We can't just send Curt or Randy out there with a catcher and expect to beat everybody in the postseason. Everybody's got to do what they do," Brenly said. "Certainly Randy and Curt are a big part of that, and their history would lend itself to optimism. But Randy and Curt could throw a no-hitter, and if we don't score and we boot the ball, we may end up getting beat."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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