- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

When the Montreal Expos traded a gangly left-hander named Randy Johnson to the Seattle Mariners in May 1989, they were unloading a 6-foot-10 mountain of hyperbolic contradiction.

Johnson’s fastball touched 100 mph, but he rarely knew where it was going. He stepped toward the plate with swirling aggression, his scraggly mullet and moustache framing a permanent scowl. In his first no-hitter, for the Mariners in 1990, Johnson struck out eight and walked six — the latter being the statistic his father, Bud, harped on in a phone call that night.

Johnson pitched Thursday looking as different as the franchise that traded him away all those years ago. The team had been threatened with contraction, played 22 games one season in Puerto Rico and moved to the District; Johnson’s stirring career included a perfect game, multiple surgeries, five Cy Young Awards, more than 4,800 strikeouts, one of the most memorable performances in World Series history and a dead dove.

Pitching for the San Francisco Giants and going for his 300th win against the Washington Nationals, Johnson’s fastball was 92 mph (at best). His slider, once so devastating that it swept behind the back foot of right-handed hitters, had lost some bite.

But at 45 years and 266 days, the left-hander finally finished his adventurous path to one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs. Johnson won his 300th game in the Giants’ 5-1 win, adding one of the final significant accomplishments to his Hall of Fame career.

“To me, wins have always outweighed strikeouts because strikeouts are something that just kind of happen,” said an introspective Johnson, who conducted a 23-minute news conference with his wife, Lisa, and four children sitting in the front row. “Pitching in a game like today, I get more gratification out of that because of the way I’m doing it now and the way I did it 10 years ago. I’m actually going out there and pitching [now].”

He became the 24th pitcher to win 300 games, the second oldest behind Phil Niekro and possibly the last to do it. In the run-up to Johnson’s historic day, there had been plenty of talk about the dearth of young pitchers in line to reach 300 because they’re handled with such caution.

“It’s very impressive. It’s very good for the game,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “We watched history today. He’s probably going to be the last guy to ever do this. It was impressive to see.”

A day after his first bid at 300 was postponed by rain, he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Johnson made a diving throw to Travis Ishikawa that retired Anderson Hernandez in the sixth — what he called “my senior moment” — and bruised his left shoulder, which forced him out of the game after the inning.

But not before he dialed up three of those famed sliders, the last two catching enough of the plate to get Adam Dunn to pop up with a runner on third and the Giants up one.

That was where his day ended after 78 pitches and 50 strikes.

“He used all his pitches — fastball, change, split, slider,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He had command. He doesn’t try to power his way through lineups.”

In the eighth inning, the milestone was in doubt. Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman walked to load the bases with two outs.

A contingent of rain-slicked fans behind the Giants’ dugout (some of them having traveled from San Francisco, ponchos at the ready) stood and cheered for Brian Wilson to preserve the win, while others implored Dunn to disrupt the history of the moment.

As Wilson fired a low 3-2 fastball, Dunn took four steps toward first base. But home plate umpire Tim Timmons froze for a moment before drawing his right fist back to signal strike three. As Dunn spun on his heels to argue the call, the poncho contingent behind the visiting dugout rose and roared.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, there was no doubt in Nationals Park anymore. Everyone stood chanting, “Randy, Randy,” as Wilson struck out Wil Nieves to end the game.

The chants continued as Johnson hugged teammates and family, gently tipping his cap to salute the fans.

Everything about him was different than when he started. But he had arrived.

“Who knows? At age 45, maybe I hurt my shoulder, the game went the [other] way and I end at 299,” Johnson said. “With everything I’ve gone through, I don’t look beyond [the next game]. I throw my time and effort into that one game because that’s the game that means the most.”

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