Big Unit, Big Game

Going into Tuesday afternoon’s game, all we ever heard about was the inadequacies of Randy Johnson and how he was not a big game pitcher. Johnson was identified as a choker who just rolled over during a big game. There were even some that said Johnson was cursed since he had not won a post-season game since 1995.

I have but one question for all of these detractors, do you want some ketchup to go along with that crow?

Johnson was pretty close to perfect during game one of the National League Championship Series. If it had not been for the mercy single that first base umpire gave to Chipper Jones in the first inning, Randy would have had a no hitter going into the ninth inning. To see Johnson retire 20 batters in a row at one point was an incredible sight. It was one of the most exciting moments in the Diamondbacks short but storied history. Most of the Atlanta Braves looked as if they had never seen a bat before Tuesday and many of them probably hope they don’t see one again.

It is always fascinating to see what effect Randy Johnson has on an opposing team. He is the only pitcher I know of that can dramatically change an opponent’s line-up. Every day players are suddenly given a day of rest when Johnson is on the mound. These speaks volumes of the respect, admiration and let’s face it, down right fear that the Big Unit instills upon the other team.

There is just something about a 6-10 man glaring from behind a black glove and then throwing a 98 mile per hour fastball within 6 inches of your kneecap that will make a guy contemplate changing careers in mid-stream. That is why this idea of a curse or lack of commitment on Randy’s part seems so absurd. Granted, it is odd that Johnson had not won a post season game in 6 years but it seemed even more strange that during that period of time he got very little run support. It was almost like Johnson’s fastballs quieted his own team’s bats as well as those of his opponents. What I find most interesting about Johnson’s performance in the 2001 post season is the number of hitters who started off with a strike. During game 2 of the Divisional play-offs, Johnson faced 31 hitters in eight innings. Of these 23 saw a first pitch strike which equates to 74 percent. In game 1 of the NLCS Randy faced 31 hitters in nine innings. Again 23 saw a strike thrown on the first pitch. In the first game, the Cardinals beat Johnson while in the NLCS he was victorious.

It is a well-known fact around the Diamondbacks clubhouse that on days that the Big Unit is pitching, you are best to stay clear of him. You never quite know whether he will acknowledge your presence or rip you to shreds. So when the players arrived at Bank One Ballpark yesterday to find Randy working on his putting, they were both confused and very scared. Given his losing streak and the pressure he was under to succeed, if he was this relaxed it meant trouble for Atlanta.

Given the success he had in Game 1 against the Braves, perhaps Johnson has found a new training regiment of golf practice before a start. Atlanta better hope he doesn’t work on his driver before the next start or he might just throw a perfect game. If this trend continues, Diamondbacks will win in “Fore!”

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