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.
1,000 days since the sale of the Rangers from Tom Hicks to Chuck Greenberg’s group ends up in federal bankruptcy court.
2,000 days since Barry Bonds plays in his last game.
2,000 days since MLB suspends umpire Mike Winters for the rest of the season for his baiting of Milton Bradley in a recent on-field incident.
4,000 days since Barry Bonds connects for his sixth of 10 career walk-off home runs.
5,000 days since Carlton Fisk’s home run ball from Game Six of the 1975 World Series sells at an auction for $113,273.
6,000 days since the Cardinals rally to top the Braves, 4-3, in Game Four of the 1996 NLCS. The Braves led 3-0 at the seventh-inning stretch. The Braves will recover to demolish the Cardinals in Games Five and Six to claim the pennant.
9,000 days since the Rangers sign amateur free agent Ivan Rodriguez.
9,000 days since Tommy John somehow, someway manages to make three errors on one play. On an infield grounder, he bobbles it for the first miscue and then throws it into right for the second muff. When the right fielder throws it to home to try to peg the lead runner, John cuts off the throw (not an error, but a mental mistake) and then promptly threw wildly to home.
20,000 days since the Kansas City A’s trade Virgil Trucks to the Yankees.
20,000 days since Wade Boggs is born.
50,000 days since the Cubs make their debut in the National League and win by tossing the first shutout in NL history.
1874 Nixey Callahan is born. While playing for the Cubs and White Sox in the 1900s, he’ll be one of the last two-way players, as he both pitched and played outfield.
1886 The New York State League admits Canadian clubs from Hamilton and Toronto, which will necessitate a change in its name to the International League. Hey, it sounds better.
1901 Johnny Cooney is born. If Callahan is the among the last of the pitcher/hitters, Cooney might be the last. He played for several years as a pitcher for the 1920s Braves before reinventing himself as a position players for the Dodgers in the 1930s. (Of course, he isn’t the last; there’s Rick Ankiel and others, but even Ankiel didn’t kick around in the majors as a pitcher as long as Cooney did).
1905 Dick Higham dies at age 53. He was a star in the 1870s, leading the early NL in doubles twice and runs scored once.
1910 Pirates infielder Alan Storke dies at age 25 after a lung operation.
1911 Al Benton, pitcher, is born. He’ll be a two-time All-Star for the 1941-42 Tigers.
1916 First baseman Elbie Fletcher is born. He’ll be a walk-happy first baseman, a sabermetric darling before there was sabermetrics.
1919 The Reds select Slim Sallee off waivers from the Giants. He’ll have an incredible 1919 season, winning 21 games despite fanning only 24 batters all year and walking only 20.
1938 Hobe Ferris dies at age 63. He played second base for the 1900s Red Sox, and while a member of the 1903 squad (the team that won the first World Series), he led the AL in games played, with 141.
1941 Pat Jarvis is born. He’ll pitch for the Braves for several years.
1953 Braves owner Lou Perini gets unanimous approval from NL owners to move his club from Boston to Milwaukee.
1955 Dwayne Murphy, super fielder outfielder, is born.
1957 Boston offers Cleveland $1,000,000 for young star pitcher Herb Score. Cleveland will turn them down, and thus Score will be an Indian when a line drive to his eye socket derails his career.
1968 Former pitcher Heinie Meine dies at age 71. He’s not especially notable, but he is named Heinie Meine. (Actually, that’s not really fair as he did lead the NL in wins in 1931 with 19.)
1970 In an exhibition game, the Seattle Pilots and Cleveland Indians try out a new, livelier ball. Result: Pilots win, 19-14. That’s a little too lively.
1974 Former Negro Leaguer (turned country singer) Charley Pride appears for the Rangers against the Orioles in an exhibition game and goes 1-for-2 against Jim Palmer.
1976 Speedy outfielder Scott Podsednik is born.
1979 Percy Jones, a starting pitcher from the 1920s, dies at age 79.
1981 The White Sox sign free agent catcher Carlton Fisk, who will spend the rest of his career there.
1982 Chad Cordero, closer, is born.
1984 Famed hitting coach Charlie Lau dies young at just 50 years old.
1985 The A’s trade veteran second baseman Davey Lopes to the Cubs.
1989 Eddie Chiles sells controlling interest in the Texas Rangers to a group headed by future President of the United States George W. Bush.
1990 MLB ends its lockout of players, announcing that camps will open on March 20 and that the season will begin one week late, on April 9.
1991 The Royals release one-time two-sport star Bo Jackson.
1992 After 32 days, the union and owners sign an agreement ending a 32-day lockout.
1994 The Braves release former star outfielder Ron Gant. Recently, Gant had broken his leg in a motorcycle accident, and riding a bike is against his contract rules.
2000 The Mets trade Jesse Orosco to the Cardinals.
2004 Gene Bearden, former pitcher, dies at age 83. He went 20-7 for the 1948 Indians, still the last Indians world championship club.
2009 Aaron Boone announces he needs surgery on a heart valve. Yikes.
2011 The Mets release Luis Castillo.