Big Unit gets 300th win on first try
Johnson becomes 24th pitcher, sixth lefty to achieve feat
WASHINGTON -- Randy Johnson would have been excused Thursday night if he wanted to let down his guard a little, loosen or lighten up, or just plain relax.Instead, he remained the quintessential Big Unit -- figuratively keep his foot on the competitive accelerator -- in the aftermath of securing his 300th career victory in the Giants' 5-1 decision over the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader.
Johnson, who no-hit Washington for four innings and ultimately allowed an unearned run and two hits in six innings, flashed his sense of humor in a postgame news conference. But even his gags carried a hint of the fire that drove him to this point and still stokes him."It sounds funny, but I've played 21, 22 years, I'm 45 and I've come upon 300 wins, and I'm thinking, 'I only have 211 more to catch Cy Young,'" Johnson said, prompting laughter. Unless Johnson finds a time machine that fits his 6-foot-10 frame and reclaims some of his youth, he's no threat to catch Young, baseball's all-time leading winner. Nevertheless, Johnson's list of accomplishments is enviable, and it grew longer with his latest triumph. He not only became the 24th Major Leaguer to ascend to the 300-win level but also established himself as the sixth left-hander in that group. He's the first pitcher to win his 300th game on his first try since Tom Seaver, then with the Chicago White Sox, did so in August 1985. The next six -- Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine -- needed multiple attempts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson also became the second-oldest pitcher to reach the 300 mark -- behind only Niekro, who achieved the feat when he was 46 years and 188 days old on Oct. 6, 1985. Johnson is 45 years and 267 days old. Johnson's the seventh pitcher in Giants history to win 300 games while pitching for the franchise at some point in his career. He's the fourth to hit that plateau as a Giant, joining Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and Christy Mathewson. Johnson secured his milestone victory against a fitting opponent -- the Nationals, who launched his professional career by drafting him in the second round in 1985 when they were known as the Montreal Expos. By coincidence, the Nationals also were San Francisco's opponent when Barry Bonds hit his record 756th home run. "I think I'm satisfied, but I've never been content," said Johnson, who bruised his throwing shoulder as he fell while scrambling for a comebacker to open the sixth yet finished the inning. "That's probably why I never really got caught up in the ... personal things because I always tried to excel and continue to do that." Still, the five-time Cy Young Award winner clearly appreciated the enormity of his feat. "I think I'm actually more nervous now than I was pitching," he said. Johnson has been cited by numerous observers as possibly the last 300-game winner, due to the five-man rotation which reduces the number of appearances a starter can make and the scarcity of pitchers able or willing to play long enough to win an appreciable number of games. But, having been dismissed by many experts as the next to win his 300th when Glavine did so two years ago, Johnson pointedly said, "Don't overlook Jamie Moyer" -- the Philadelphia left-hander who ranks second among active pitchers with 250 victories. Johnson's latest triumph affirmed what baseball people have long known and what he has maintained about himself: He's all about winning. Following a 36-minute rain delay -- a watery reminder of Wednesday's downpour that delayed his start overnight -- Johnson (5-4) retired the first 10 batters in a row while his teammates scored twice in the second inning to give him the requisite lead. Fred Lewis singled and Travis Ishikawa doubled with one out off rookie right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (2-3) before Juan Uribe's groundout delivered a run. Emmanuel Burriss singled to center field on an 0-2 pitch, scoring Ishikawa. The next 19 Giants hitters went down in order before they gave themselves and Johnson a cushion by adding three runs in the ninth. Aaron Rowand singled leading off against Joel Hanrahan and Edgar Renteria doubled before both scored on Randy Winn's double. Bengie Molina's single finished Hanrahan and moved Winn to third, from where he scored on pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval's sacrifice fly. Performing under light rain and before a sparse crowd that included close to 20 of his relatives and friends, Johnson lost his no-hitter when Elijah Dukes led off the Nationals' fifth with a single up the middle. Johnson yielded just one other hit, Nick Johnson's sixth-inning RBI double. Randy Johnson received ample support from his defense. Rowand robbed Nick Johnson, Washington's second batter of the game, by plunging to the turf to snare a sinking liner in left-center field. Second baseman Burriss made a glittering play in the fifth by making a diving stop of Ronnie Belliard's one-hopper up the middle and shoveling the ball from his glove to shortstop Renteria to start a double play. Brian Wilson, who escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the eighth inning by retiring Adam Dunn on a disputed called third strike, pitched the ninth to notch his 13th save and preserve Johnson's triumph. Johnson's triumph marked the culmination of what in some ways has been an unlikely ascent. He didn't record his first Major League victory until he was 25, and he had won only 64 games upon turning 30 in 1993. But, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson's 236 victories since turning 30 are the fifth-most in Major League history. "I'd say anything's possible as long as you stay healthy and are driven and continue to succeed," Johnson said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.