Unit, Yanks win one for the ages
Veteran overpowering in matchup vs. Mariners teenager
SEATTLE -- All week, Seattle has been buzzing over the matchup of its newest superstar, Felix Hernandez, against one of its oldest, Randy Johnson.
Age overcame youth on Wednesday night, as Johnson led the Yankees to a 2-0 win over Hernandez's Mariners, thanks to seven shutout innings by the Big Unit.
"I thought Hernandez was pretty damn good, but Randy was certainly equal to the task," said manager Joe Torre. "He was terrific; he just dominated."
More importantly, the Yankees watched Johnson overwhelm his opponent for a second straight start, giving New York the optimism that the Big Unit is ready for a big stretch run.
"It's taken some time for him to settle into a comfortable mode, but right now, he's very aggressive," Torre said. "He's animated, which is great to watch, and he seems to be doing what he wants with his pitches."
"We've been seeing some good things from Randy," said catcher John Flaherty. "We're starting to see that Randy Johnson attitude that we've been looking forward to seeing."
Johnson, pitching five days after an eight-inning, one-run performance against the Royals, had little trouble with the Mariners, allowing three hits and two walks, striking out seven to improve to 13-8.
"Mechanically, I've struggled all year long with my arm angle, with my velocity and my effectiveness. That stems from poor mechanics," Johnson said. "Tonight, I felt really comfortable on the mound."
The Yankees managed just four hits in eight innings against the 19-year-old right-hander, but two of them were home runs by Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield, supplying all of the offense that Johnson would need.
"I was very impressed," said Alex Rodriguez. "He's got good stuff and he's very poised."
The victory kept the Yankees 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East. The Yankees maintained their one-game lead over the Angels in the AL Wild Card standings.
Hernandez walked a pair of batters in the first inning, but went on to sit down the next five Yankees with a combination of power and control. He struck out Flaherty to start the third, but Cano belted a 1-0 changeup over the wall in right-center field, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
"He's got great stuff," Cano said. "I saw him in the Futures Game in 2004, and he's very good. He's going to be a great pitcher."
Johnson, 41, was facing a pitcher more than 22 years his junior, marking the first time since 1965 that a hurler over 40 faced an opponent under 20. The age difference, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was also the largest between two starters in more than 11 years.
Johnson admitted that pitching in Seattle, the city where he came into his own on the mound, got him juiced up. The Unit allowed just one walk through the first three innings, striking out four.
"I was pretty animated; tonight's game was probably the most energetic and emotional that I've had in a long time," Johnson said. "It was just coming back here; Seattle, where the opportunity was given to me to throw every five days regardless of how I pitched. I knew I would get the opportunity to develop here. This is where it all kind of started."
In the fourth, Hernandez served up another homer. Sheffield crushed a 96 mph fastball to left, collecting his 28th home run of the season and No. 443 of his career, good for 30th place on the all-time list.
"He likes to hit the fastball," Torre said of Sheffield. "I don't think that's any secret."
With a 2-0 lead, Johnson went back to work in the fourth. He issued a two-out walk, but got Adrian Beltre to line out to Rodriguez to end the frame. Johnson sent the M's down in order in the fifth, striking out his sixth batter to carry the no-hitter into the sixth.
Yuniesky Betancourt ended Johnson's no-no bid with a leadoff double in the sixth, but Johnson retired the next three hitters to preserve the shutout.
Said A-Rod: "I feel he's still the best pitcher in the American League when he throws like he did tonight."
Johnson found himself in his only jam of the night in the seventh, giving up a pair of one-out singles to Beltre and Jose Lopez, putting the tying runs on base. The Big Unit, still throwing in the mid-90s, got Mike Morse to fly out and Yorvit Torrealba to ground out, completing his seventh scoreless inning of the night.
"In my younger days in Seattle, I used to get rattled pretty easily; those emotions would work against me," Johnson said. "I think over the years, I've learned how to deal with that and have them work for me."
Hernandez wasn't fazed by the two homers, allowing just two walks and one single from the fifth through the seventh -- erasing two of the three runners on double-play balls.
Hernandez came out for the eighth and threw another zero on the board, but the seventh proved to be Johnson's last inning, as he turned the game over to Tom Gordon after 116 pitches and just three hits. Gordon tossed a perfect eighth, setting up Mariano Rivera for his 35th save.
"There's been a lot of talk about Hernandez all week, which is understandable," Torre said. "It's the changing of the guard, but maybe Randy was saying, 'It's the changing of the guard, but I'm not done yet.'"
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.