The Return of Randy

I remember seeing the transaction come across the wire on January 9, 2007. It simply stated, “acquired LHP Randy Johnson and cash from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Luis Vizcaino, Ross Ohlendorf, Steven Jackson, and infielder Alberto Gonzalez”. That same day it was announced that the Diamondbacks had agreed to a contract extension with Johnson that would keep him in a Diamondbacks uniform through the 2008 season. This was exciting news as it most likely meant that Randy Johnson would finish his career in Arizona where he had most of his success. It also meant that he would also get his 300th win as a Diamondback. It is the one thing Randy had not yet accomplished in his storied career and would put the proper explanation point on a Hall of Fame resume. Of course all of this speculation went out the window when a back injury caused Johnson to miss much of the 2007 season.

In 2008 Randy came back with a vengeance and while not quite as dominating as he once was he was still a pitcher that brought fear and intimidation to the mound and showed he was still capable of getting major league hitters out. The wins began to pile up and that 300th victory seemed well within reach. Unfortunately for Randy he was once again plagued by poor run support like he had been earlier in his career with the Diamondbacks. As a result he ended the season just 5 wins short of his goal.

When the Diamondbacks were eliminated from the post season the rumors began to circulate that Arizona may not bring back its best pitcher in team history. Stories were published and interviews were given that led credence to the rumors. Johnson said all the right things; that he wanted to be a Diamondback and finish his career here. The front office for the Diamondbacks likewise said that they were interesting in bringing the Big Unit back for another year. The problem they said was dollars. As a mid-market team with a finite amount for payroll they had budgetary constraints that would require a significant reduction in pay. Johnson understood and lowered his asking price to less than half what he was making the previous year. This number still appeared to be beyond what the Diamondbacks were comfortable with and in the end Randy left signing a one-year contract with the San Francisco Giants. Interestingly enough the Diamondbacks subsequently signed Jon Garland at a price above what Randy was asking for making the fans question whether the team was really serious about bringing Johnson back at all.

In his first two starts as a Giant Randy did not fare well being tagged for runs and saddled with the losses. Garland on the other hand had a couple of solid starts and it looked as though the Diamondbacks were justified in their reasoning. Then of course Arizona went to San Francisco to face their former ace. While Randy maintained it was just another game his actions showed something differently. He pitched like vintage Randy Johnson taking a no hitter into the 7th inning and earned his first win.

Now a week later Randy Johnson makes his return to Chase Field to face the Diamondbacks for a second time. I sat and watched this former Diamondbacks player as he warmed up. It seemed so strange seeing him in black and orange rather than the familiar Sedona Red. Things just looked so backwards seeing him leave the first base dugout and enter the right field bullpen. The sound of leather snapping remained the same as I remembered. As he walked back to the dugout after warming up he got a nice ovation from both the Giants and Diamondbacks fans.

Part of me wanted to see him win and somehow feel vindication for beating the team that didn’t want him bad enough to resign him. On the other hand I am not capable of rooting against the Diamondbacks so I was in quite a quandary. This quandary didn’t last long and neither did Randy. He was uncharacteristically wild walking several and leaving the game after just 3.1 innings. Johnson did not factor into the decision as the Giants came back from behind and won the game. He is still working towards that 300th win and I hope he gets it. At this point I am even ok if he gets it against the Diamondbacks. It would somehow bring closure to this situation and who knows maybe it would pave the way for Randy to retire as a Diamondback.

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