December 9, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Monday, March 18, 2013
5,000 days ago, one of the most grueling and amazing bits of baseball hell came to an end. 5,000 days ago was the fourth consecutive start for Randy Johnson in which he just couldn’t get a break. Despite pitching brilliantly, he couldn’t get a win because he got no help whatsoever.
Late June and early July, 1999 were no fun at all for the Big Unit.
Four times he took the mound, and four times he pitched brilliantly. In all four occasions, however, his teammates scored zero runs for him. That virtually never happens. You almost never have a starting pitcher find himself on the receiving end of four straight shutouts, but it happened to Johnson.
Calling them shutouts is perhaps too polite. Johnson’s Arizona teammates weren’t just shut out, they were completely shut down.
That was certainly the case in the first game in Johnson’s hell stretch. On June 25, 1999, they were no-hit. Adding insult to injury, they were no-hit by one of the worst pitchers in baseball, St. Louis starter Jose Jimenez. For his part, Johnson threw a complete game in a 1-0 loss. He allowed just five hits and two walks while blowing away 14, but it didn’t matter. It was a loss.
Arizona’s performance was barely any better five days later on June 30, 1999. This time they got a hit, but just that: a hit. As in one. Tony Womack scratched out a two-out single in the sixth inning, and that’s all the support Arizona gave Johnson. The pitcher was little-heralded Ron Villone, a reliever making just his fifth career start.
For his part, Johnson was arguably even better than he was five days before. He fanned 17, which would be the most by any pitcher in one game all year long. Aye, but he also allowed seven hits, which led to a pair of Cincinnati runs, for the hard-luck, 2-0 loss.
Five days later, Johnson had a chance for revenge against the typically terrible Jimenez as they faced off once again. Johnson was as good as he had been 10 days earlier, fanning 12 in eight innings while surrendering just four hits and one run.
Yeah, but the problem was that Jimenez was also about as good as he was 10 days earlier. No, he didn’t throw a no-hitter. Not this time. He had to settle for throwing a two-hitter. Steve Finley doubled in the fifth, and Andy Fox squeaked out an infield single in the sixth, but neither advanced further, let alone scored.
That led to the fourth and final of these contests, the one that took place 5,000 days ago, on July 10, 1999. Yeah, the Diamondbacks were shut out on few hits yet again. In an amazing bit of consistency, they improved their hit total yet again by one hit. After being no-hit, one-hit, and two-hit, this time they nailed three hits.
At least this time the opposing pitcher was himself a legitimate stud, young A’s hurler Tim Hudson. Luis Gonzalez doubled in the first, Travis Lee singled in the second, and Fox singled in the eighth.
As for Johnson, he wasn’t quite as sharp as he was in the other games. In fact, his second pitch went over the fence for a leadoff homer for veteran A’s batter Tim Raines. (That proved to be the 16th and final career leadoff homer for Raines).
After that, however, Johnson settled down. He did allow another run, but it was unearned. In seven innings, he fanned 11 while allowed just three hits. Yet for the fourth straight time, he got the loss.
Summing up, in four starts, here was Johnson’s line: 32 IP, 19 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 10 BB, 54 K and a 1.41 ERA, yet an 0-4 record.
In all of his losses, Johnson posted a Game Score of 72 or higher. On the entire year, there were only 17 times a pitcher had a Game Score of 72 or more and got hung for a loss, but it happened to Johnson four times in a row. Three of them ranked among the six highest Game Scores for a losing starting pitcher. (One of the other three was another Johnson start from later in the season).
If you look at Johnson’s numbers at the end of the season, it’s clear he had a tremendous campaign. His 2.48 ERA was easily the best, as only one other NL pitcher was under 2.90. He fanned 364 batters, the most by anyone in a quarter-century, when Nolan Ryan was in his heyday. Johnson also led the league in innings, starts, complete games, and ERA+.
Yet he went just 17-9 on the season. That’s nice but out of line with his otherwise otherworldly dominance. Well, the midseason hell stretch shows why his record wasn’t as superlative as it should’ve been. It was a nightmare for Johnson to endure, but the last part of it ended 5,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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