06/29/2004 11:34 PM ET
Big Unit joins 4,000-strikeout club
Johnson is fastest ever to exclusive milestone
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Along with immense talent, it's the drive and determination to win that has made Randy Johnson a surefire Hall of Famer.
Tuesday night, that was on full display as the Big Unit became just the fourth player in Major League history to record 4,000 career strikeouts when he fanned Padres third baseman Jeff Cirillo in the eighth inning.
Despite joining Nolan Ryan (5,714), Roger Clemens (4,200) and Steve Carlton (4,136) in one of the game's most exclusive clubs, Johnson was more focused on the fact that the Diamondbacks lost their 11th straight game, this one a 3-2 decision to the Padres.
"Obviously it's a great honor to have achieved what I've achieved and be in the category that I'm in," Johnson said. "But if anybody knows me, anybody in the state of Arizona or wherever I've played, all I care about is winning every fifth day. It doesn't matter if I get the win. Especially today, we just needed to win the ballgame to end a losing streak."
"It's obviously very bittersweet to achieve something like this, yet lose a ballgame, which is the priority and my main objective, what I work for when I go out there. I didn't get the job done tonight and we're still in a losing streak and that's the bottom line."
With flash bulbs popping and the Arizona fans on their feet, Cirillo unsuccessfully tried to check his swing on a full-count 87 mph slider and Terrence Long was thrown out trying to steal third on the play to end the inning.
"He's the best pitcher I ever faced," Cirillo said. "I thought for sure he was going to throw me the fastball he struck me out with earlier but he threw me a slider and I couldn't check."
As he walked off the field, the crowd chanted "Ran-dy, Ran-dy" and Johnson removed his cap to acknowledge the cheers.
Johnson was removed after that frame and allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits in his eight innings of work. He struck out eight and did not issue a walk while throwing 93 pitches, 65 for strikes. It was the second historic accomplishment of the season for Johnson, who tossed a perfect game in Atlanta on May 18.
"It's a number, but it's a number in this game that guarantees him first-ballot Hall of Fame status," Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said of 4,000 strikeouts. "Not that he needed anything else to get in on the first ballot, but this eliminates any doubt for anybody who was silly enough to think he wasn't going in on the first ballot."
Johnson was the quickest pitcher to reach the 4,000 strikeout mark in terms of innings as he accomplished it in 3,237 1/3 innings. It took Ryan 3,844 2/3 innings, while Clemens did it in 4,151 and Carlton in 4,991 1/3.
Ryan pitched 27 years before retiring at age 46 while Johnson, 40, has spent a little over 16 seasons at the Major League level.
|All-time strikeout leaders (thru games of 6/29)|
|3 ||Steve Carlton||24||4,136|
|Other active leaders|
|* active player||Complete all-time list|
"If I could play another 10 years I might give Nolan a run for his money," Johnson said with a smile. "But I don't anticipate doing that."
The night was a testament to how far Johnson had come from his early years in professional baseball when as a 6-foot-10 gangly lefty, he had little idea where his electric fastball was going to go. Hours of work spent refining his mechanics and learning from some of the game's best -- including Ryan -- helped Johnson harness his talent and become a five-time Cy Young Award winner, including four straight from 1999-2002.
But there were few smiles for Johnson when he met with the media following the game. Courteous and cooperative, he was not in a celebratory mood due to the loss.
"Someone's got to step up and get the job done," he said of stopping the longest losing streak in the Majors this year. "That's what I'm here to do and I didn't get it done tonight. I had really wanted to enjoy this night and walk off and have a good time with you guys tonight and enjoy it with the fans, but my priority is to win ballgames. Strikeouts will come along. I never even knew I was going to be a strikeout pitcher until I got into the minor leagues."
Though he took the loss and the responsibility for it, this was a very winnable game for the Diamondbacks.
The Padres took advantage of an error by shortstop Alex Cintron to take an early 2-0 lead in the third inning. Cirillo's sac fly in the frame scored the first run and with two outs Cintron booted Mark Loretta's routine grounder to allow Khalil Greene to scamper home.
"It looked like a little lack of concentration," Brenly said of the play. "A very routine ball. He just clanked it. I don't know what else to say. It didn't appear to take a bad hop or anything and that turned out to be a big run."
The Diamondbacks cut the lead in the half in the sixth when Danny Bautista's RBI single scored Steve Finley.
|Randy Johnson milestone strikeouts|
|1||9/15/88||Orestes Destrade||PIT||2nd, S|
|500||8/31/91||Lance Parrish||@CAL||4th, L|
|1,000||5/21/93||Chuck Knoblauch||MIN||1st, L|
|1,500||7/20/95||Turner Ward||@MIL||2nd, S|
|2,000*||9/27/97||Ben Grieve||OAK||6th, S|
|2,500||6/25/99||Eric Davis||STL||9th, S|
|3,000||9/10/00||Mike Lowell||@FLA||4th, S|
|3,500||5/21/02||Reggie Sanders||SF||2nd, S|
|4,000||6/29/2004||Jeff Cirillo ||SD||8th, S|
|*relief appearance || L:looking || S:swinging|
But the Diamondbacks inability to cash in on scoring opportunities would prove costly. Twice they left the bases loaded and they stranded 10 overall.
"We have no problem loading the bases it seems like," said catcher Robby Hammock, who struck out with the bases jammed in the eighth. "We just can't come through with the big hit. I'm terrible right now. I don't even think I swung at a strike all night. I wish I would've been able to help him win."
As per Johnson's wishes, the occasion was marked in a low-key manner. The color matrix board showed a countdown to 4,000 at the beginning of every inning and the all-time strikeout leader board in left field was updated after each strikeout.
The club plans to hold a pregame ceremony to honor Johnson on Wednesday. The details of ceremony are being kept a secret as they hope to not just surprise the fans, but Johnson as well.
Padres starter Brian Sweeney picked up his first Major League win.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.