Big Unit flirts with no-no in win No. 296
Johnson beats former team in first start vs. D-backs
SAN FRANCISCO -- Asked the standard question about whether teammates ignored him as his no-hit bid lengthened Sunday, Randy Johnson prompted laughter from reporters by saying, "I think they ignore me anyway."Actually, nobody could overlook Johnson during his seven scintillating innings. Continuing to belie his age, the 45-year-old no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks for six innings before allowing Augie Ojeda's seventh-inning leadoff double, helping the Giants prevail, 2-0. It marked the 14th time that Johnson had taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Johnson (1-2) collected the 296th victory of his 22-year career on his third attempt and moved a step closer toward becoming the 24th pitcher to win 300 games. Johnson's latest conquest was unlike any of his others, since he defeated his former teammates in his first regular-season appearance against them. He compiled a 118-62 record in eight seasons with the D-backs (1999-2004, 2007-08), won four of his five Cy Young Awards with them and played on a World Series-winning club in 2001. Despite his rich history with the D-backs, Johnson denied feeling extra motivation to beat them. "I kind of put blinders on when it comes to certain teams," he said. "Me, I just wanted to win." Others sensed extra intensity from Johnson. "He had that little scowl going after strikeouts, so it was kind of nice to see that," Giants utility man Rich Aurilia said. "I'm sure he had a little added incentive today." "He was obviously fired up," Arizona left fielder Eric Byrnes said. "His velocity was up and he didn't miss too many locations." Johnson didn't deny feeling motivated, but said that he wanted to offset his last outing -- a 3 2/3-inning, seven-run performance at Los Angeles last Monday.
"Knowing how poorly I pitched in L.A., I wanted to pitch well today," said Johnson, who walked two and struck out seven. "I executed my pitches a lot better."Johnson threw slightly harder than he had this year, as his fastball often exceeded 90 mph according to AT&T Park's velocity readings. So he relied almost exclusivly on his fastball and slider, much as he did during his glory years. With two no-hitters -- including a perfect game -- to his credit, Johnson insisted that he didn't dwell on achieving another historic feat as he sat alone at the far end of the Giants' dugout during San Francisco's at-bats. "I've been fortunate to do a lot of those kind of things. Those are all bonuses," Johnson said. "When you go out there as a starting pitcher, it's so easy to lose. Winning is extremely difficult. That's the main priority." Johnson did acknowledge that maintaining the pattern established in this series by Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Lincecum was on his mind. Sanchez pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings in Friday night's series opener, followed by Lincecum's eight on Saturday. Overall, Giants starters blanked Arizona for 21 2/3 innings while surrendering eight hits, walking six and striking out 24. "Nobody wants to be the weak link of the rotation," Johnson said. Pitching in a close game also helped Johnson sustain his concentration. Arizona and San Francisco entered Sunday ranked 13th and 15th, respectively, in scoring among National League clubs. So it was no surprise that the game remained scoreless until the fourth inning, when the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out before settling for Travis Ishikawa's sacrifice fly off Arizona starter Max Scherzer (0-1). San Francisco didn't score again until the eighth, one inning after Johnson departed. "I think you tend to be a little more focused and realize that every pitch has to be with conviction and is meaningful," Johnson said. "... Despite the no-hitter, I had no latitude to give up any runs." Johnson, who retired the first 12 D-backs he confronted, faced the minimum of 18 batters through six innings. He walked Tony Clark on a full-count pitch to christen the fifth inning before inducing Chris Young's fielder's-choice grounder. Johnson then trapped Young off first base with a pickoff throw. Johnson issued another leadoff walk in the sixth, this one to Ryan Roberts. But pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds grounded into an inning-ending double play after Chris Snyder struck out. Johnson received ample defensive support. Right fielder Randy Winn slid to snare Byrnes' slicing line drive for the second out in the first inning. "Randy kind of started it off with that catch and it kind of dictated the way the defense played," Johnson said. Said Winn, "There are times to try to dive and make a catch and there are times to play it smart. I felt I had a good chance to get it." Two innings later, catcher Bengie Molina pounced on Snyder's bunt up the third-base line and threw hard to first base for the out. Johnson himself made an entertaining play after fielding Byrnes' fourth-inning comebacker, toppling to the turf after tossing the ball to first. The no-hit drama dissolved with Johnson's first pitch in the seventh, a slider that Ojeda lined cleanly to left field. But Johnson still had a 1-0 lead to protect. After Byrnes sacrificed Ojeda to third base, Felipe Lopez grounded out to shortstop with the infield playing shallow. Johnson fanned Clark to end the threat. With Johnson having thrown 73 pitches on a warm day, manager Bruce Bochy excused the future Hall of Famer for the rest of the afternoon. "You lose a no-hitter and a lot of times there's a letdown," Bochy said. "There wasn't with him."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.