Our Johnson is Bigger Than Yours

Yesterday I alluded to the fact that I thought perhaps the Diamondbacks fans may be outnumbered and overrun by Cubs fans. Today I am feeling a little bit like Nostradamus as that prediction was definitely true. When I arrived at Chase Field I was greeted by a sea of Cubbie blue sprinkled with the Sedona Red of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a really strange experience for me as I am a recovering Cubs fan myself. Throughout my childhood I grew up on Cubs baseball which probably explains a lot of my abnormal behavioral tendencies. I remember watching Ferguson Jenkins on the mound and lived for the sound of Harry Carey’s voice. My first baseball game in person was a Cubs game and I’ll never forget the sights and smells of Wrigley Field. But since the inception of the Arizona Diamondbacks I have learned the error of my ways. I stowed away my Cubs gear and adopted the D-Backs. So I was not necessarily as uncomfortable being surrounded by Cubs fans as I would have been if it were say the Yankees or the Mets.

The game was brilliantly played. It featured two great pitchers in Randy Johnson and Rich Harden. Harden had a record of 5-1 coming into the game and looked fairly dominating since making his Cubs debut earlier this season; Randy likewise looked very dominating in his last 2 starts after losing 6 in a row. This had all the earmarks of being a pitchers’ duel. While there are a lot of fans who would prefer to see a 10-9 game with home runs being bantered about, I would much prefer a game that hinges on a single mistake in a 1-0 game.

The Diamondbacks bats had been fairly hot during the Dodgers series so I expected that the trend would continue. I could not have been more wrong as Harden shut down the snakes. By shutdown I don’t mean he kept the Diamondbacks to singles; no by shutdown I mean completely stifled as it no runs, no hits, no errors, no walks, no nothing. Through the first half of the game the Diamondbacks did not have a single base runner. Harden was throwing a perfect game in our stadium. It was one of those things that just makes a great big pit swell up in your stomach as each passing out brings your team closer to being on the wrong side of history. I have sat through a no-hitter before when the St. Louis Cardinals rookie Jose Jimenez shut down the Diamondbacks in 1999. It was one of the most helpless feelings I have ever had and I really didn’t want to see that again.

The funny thing was that Randy Johnson wasn’t doing too bad himself. He allowed a hit in a couple of innings but other than that he had been brilliant. No base runner had advanced past second base and therefore the score remained 0-0. What was more, Randy’s pitch count was fairly low, even lower than Harden giving the Big Unit a distinct advantage. Still, no matter how well he was pitching the game remained in a scoreless tie. It was looking as though the first mistake made would mean the difference in this game. That happened in the sixth inning when Diamondbacks rookie right fielder Alex Romero hit a 2-strike change-up over the right field fence for his first career home run. With that one pitch Harden lost his perfect game, the no-hitter, the shut-out, and ultimately the game. Randy would exit after 7 innings allowing only those 2 singles and a walk.

With a depleted bullpen the Diamondbacks turned to Micah Owings who was scheduled to start game 2 of this series. Owings threw one inning and maintained the lead not allowing any hits. Micah was scheduled to be up in the bottom of the 8th inning and I think everyone expected to see him at the plate. It seemed like a brilliant move by Bob Melvin. Bring in Owings to throw the last 2 innings thereby preserving the bullpen and also inserting a stronger hitter into the line-up to try and get an insurance run. I was therefore shocked when Melvin pinch hit Tony Clark for Micah Owings ending Owings night after 1 inning. Clark flied out to center so I am not sure how that was any better than what Micah could have done. But I guess this did allow Melvin to make a change putting his best defensive lineup into the end of a tight game. Except that when the ninth inning started it was not Clark on first but rather Chad Tracy why had already bobbled one ball hit to him. And on the mound was Chad Qualls. The same Chad Qualls who had recently struggled to get anyone out. For the life of me I could not understand what was going on. My fears were magnified when Qualls gave up a walk to Ryan Theriot. Pinch hitter Kosuke Fukudome then hit a ball to Tracy who could not come up with it for an error putting the first two batters he faced on first and second and bringing up the go-ahead run. This game had déjà vu written all over it. Cubs fans were on their feet cheering their team sensing they were about to steal a game from the Diamondbacks. Instead Qualls got Derrick Lee to hit into a double play leaving Theriot on third with 2 outs. The game ended with Qualls getting Aramis Ramirez to hit a grounder to Orlando Hudson who tossed it to Chad Tracy to record the last out. Randy Johnson’s two-hitter beat Rich Harden’s 1-hitter and the Big Unit recorded his 291st win of his career. He needs just 9 more to reach 300. The win also stretched Randy’s dominance over the Cubs. He is now 13-0 against Chicago with an ERA of 1.84; that is pretty impressive. So when they needed it most the Diamondbacks got a win from the biggest Johnson in baseball.

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