December 8, 2013
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Sunday, March 03, 2013
As the crowd filed into Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark on June 25, 1999, many likely hoped that they’d see a great pitching performance. Why shouldn’t they? After all, on the mound that day was one of the most dominating hurlers in history.
Randy Johnson was in his first year in the desert, but everyone knew how good he was. He’d led the AL in strikeouts four straight times with the Mariners. When Johnson came to the NL in a trade to Houston in mid-1998, he destroyed the league, posting a 10-1 record with a miniscule 1.28 ERA.
So far he hadn’t been as otherworldly brilliant with Arizona, but still had a 9-3 record with a 3.36 ERA. With a guy like Johnson, there was no telling what could happen when he stepped on the mound.
And certainly he should get another win on this day. Up against him was maybe the worst starting pitcher in all baseball, St. Louis’ Jose Jimenez. The 25-year-old rookie was suffering through a brutal season, with a 6.69 ERA so far. Somehow he’d won three games, but that was alongside seven losses.
Sure enough, the fans would see a great pitching performance from Johnson, but improbably they’d see an even better one from Jimenez. Johnson was nearly unhittable, but Jimenez one-upped him with one of the least likely no-hitters of all-time.
Arizona was a heckuva team that year. The D-backs won 100 games, and while Johnson was a big part of that, their offense was an even bigger part. They led the league in runs scored, with 908. Sure they played in a hitter’s park, but that was nearly 100 runs over an average team. Besides, today’s game was at the hitter’s park, so it should be especially hard to shut them down.
Yet shut them down Jimenez did. They had all their regular starters in the lineup, but they couldn’t do a thing. Three men reached base all day against Jimenez, on two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Both walkers were immediately erased on double plays. Arizona’s best “rally” of the day came in the third inning, when number eight hitter Andy Fox received a one-out HBP and advanced to second when Johnson weakly bounced one back to the pitcher. Fox advanced no further.
Jimenez didn’t have to rely too much on his defense, either. Oh, they helped—but Jimenez fanned eight batters on the day. Jimenez forced an array of grounders, almost all to the right side of the infield. Nearly half the balls in play went to either Mark McGwire at first base or Joe McEwing at second. Shortstop Edgar Renteria fielded the ball just once all day, as did third baseman David Howard.
For much of the game, though, it wasn’t clear that Jimenez would get the win, even if he prevented Arizona from getting any hits. That’s because Johnson was arguably even more dominating that Jimenez.
Did Jimenez have a no-hitter going? So did Johnson for the first three frames. While that ended with a leadoff double in the fourth by McEwing, Johnson had already fanned five guys in a row before then—and proceeded to whiff McGwire to strand McEwing in scoring position.
Entering the ninth, the game was still 0-0. Johnson had allowed just two hits and no other base runners. Oh, and he’d fanned 12.
Make it 13, as Johnson whiffed McEwing to lead off the top of the ninth. However, Johnson was tiring. He walked the next two batters, the second man getting a free pass on just four pitches. Well, maybe he was just pitching around that guy—it was McGwire, after all. And Johnson quickly recovered to blow away Eric Davis on three pitches. He was now one out from a scoreless ninth, but it was not to be. Thomas Howard snaked a single to left and the lead runner came around to score. In an empty consolation prize, the D-backs nailed McGwire trying to advance to third, ending the inning, but St. Louis now led, 1-0.
That’s all Jimenez needed. A strikeout, a flyout to right (just the fifth defensive play by a St. Louis outfielder all day), and a ground out to second ended the game—and gave Jimenez a no-hitter.
In a strange coda, this game proved to be a bizarre sign of things to come. This was the first of four consecutive shutout losses Johnson suffered. He’d fan 54 batters in 32 innings with a 1.41 ERA—and an 0-4 record. Arizona’s offense got a little better each game—from a no-hit game, to a one-hit performance, then two hits, and finally three hits. Yes, really. Oh—and Jimenez threw the two-hitter, too. It turned out to be his second and last career complete game.
His first one was, of course, the no-hitter. And that was 5,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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