Unit's impact felt from all corners
Peers, skippers reflect on lefty's dominance, 300th win
It didn't take his 300th career victory for the Big Unit to cast a uniquely large shadow on the game and his era.
Randy Johnson has been the object of respect in many forms from his peers over more than two decades of dominance in the Majors. From his days of effective wildness and high 90s on the radar gun to more recent years as he's been pitching with pinpoint effectiveness, he has earned it. Hitters who stood in the box, pitchers who shared the mound with him, teammates and foes alike have made the 6-foot-10 lefty as respected a player as there is in the game.Win No. 300 only puts a big number next to the feeling about the Big Unit after Johnson beat the Nationals, 5-1, in Game 1 of Thursday's doubleheader. "That stuff means a lot. You don't know how many pitchers will be able to do it again," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who managed Johnson with the Yankees (2005-06) -- and against him in the 2001 World Series. "For me, and I feel strongly about this, he's a Hall of Famer whether or not he does it. But it's certainly a great accomplishment to win 300 games. "We've seen that 500 home runs has lost some of it's luster with what's twirling around that, but 300 wins is 300 wins. You have to spend a fair amount of time in the center of the diamond." How long? How about almost as long as Marlins 25-year-old right-hander Josh Johnson has been alive? The younger Johnson (no relation) improved to 5-1 on the season on Thursday night with his 24th career win. "That number is huge," Josh Johnson said of Randy Johnson's 300th. "I just got my 20th not too long ago. I'm not thinking that far ahead. He's one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers of all time. That pretty much sums it up."
For a hitter like Atlanta's Chipper Jones, facing Johnson has become a barometer for his own career."I'm proud that he's getting this accomplishment," Jones said. "I've had five guys strike me out three times in a game and he's done it three of those times. To have had some little bit of success off him, I'll always be able to tell my kids that we went toe-to-toe quite a few times, and he won his share and I won my share." And for Curt Schilling, his partner in the dynamic duo that made history in Arizona, there simply was no one better with whom he could share a rotation. "I am honored to have been able to witness his greatness every five days," Schilling said Thursday. "His intensity was far beyond anyone I've ever competed with and his place in the game was cemented well ahead of his 300 wins. The most dominating strikeout pitcher ever to have taken the ball." Closing in on 5,000 strikeouts and owner of a pair of no-hitters, including a perfect game, Johnson certainly made an indelible mark on the game before Thursday's historic win at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. In fact, one of the most impressive stretches by a pitcher in recent memory was Johnson's run of success while with the D-backs, which included the World Series on his resume, in 2001. "He was just really good," said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, who played with Johnson in Arizona from 2000-03. "He won four straight Cy Youngs, three while I played with him. That's incredible. He had this single-minded purpose. You really felt like he was competing with himself all the time, like he was seeking perfection." Said Rays reliever Randy Choate, who played with Johnson in Arizona: "When that guy's on, he's as dominant as anybody has ever been in the game. I caught him in Arizona a little later [in Johnson's career], but I was also in Arizona for his perfect game, so I've seen that guy at his best in that game, and it was unbelievable. People weren't even close to touching him. It's like he's letting the ball go halfway to the plate. When you're 6-10 and you throw 98, it's got to be unbelievable on hitters. But I'm just happy for him." There can be little discounting of that fear factor. It was given a light and memorable touch in the 1993 All-Star Game when John Kruk bailed out on the left-handed batter's box following a close pitch, flipping his helmet around and getting a better look from the right side. Most of the time, it hasn't been all that funny. "When you were facing Randy Johnson with a 97 mph pitch coming at your body, I think that was an uncomfortable feeling," said Pirates manager John Russell, who went 5-for-20 as a player against Johnson. "Left-handers were uncomfortable that they weren't going to see the ball very well. When I played, left-handers never liked facing him, because you were never too comfortable in the box. If the manager gave you the day off it was a sigh of relief, because you knew there were going to be uncomfortable at-bats." One of the few pitchers in recent decades who shared that sort of reputation was Nolan Ryan, currently the Rangers' president. Only Ryan has more strikeouts than Johnson's 4,845, and he, too, knows the feeling of reaching the magical 300 number. "It's a great sense of accomplishment," said Ryan, who has 324 career victories and 5,714 strikeouts. "It doesn't surprise me that he got there with his determination and the fact that he had set it as a goal. He was really determined to accomplish that. I'm really glad to see him do it." With six different teams on his baseball card, Big Unit has left his big mark in a number of places -- first in a big way in Seattle, where he landed after debuting with Montreal. It was with the Mariners that he won the first of his Cy Young Awards, saw his first postseason action and got his first no-hitter. The impact Johnson can bring possibly is best measured by him joining the Astros in 1998, traded there by the Mariners on July 31. He went 10-1 down the stretch to lead Houston into the playoffs. "It was very exciting when we traded for him at the deadline and he came to Houston," Brad Ausmus said. "He was everything we expected. ... He brought an energy not only to the field but to the stands. Fans started showing up in droves when he was on the mound." No doubt, Johnson has been the center of attention at all of his stops, from Arizona after that to the Yankees and now to the Giants. This 300th victory is just a capper. "Nobody has competed harder than he has the last 20 years," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He is a really fierce competitor. What he's done to keep himself in shape -- a lot of guys quit before they have to because they don't want to pay the price anymore, either to compete or to work hard. He's gone from where he was untouchable to, he's still got really good stuff, but he moves the ball around and he's got real good location. Great pitcher."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.