D-backs legends Unit, Schilling set to reunite
Pair of aces to celebrate World Series anniversary this weekend
PHOENIX -- During Spring Training 2001, then D-backs manager Bob Brenly referred to his top two pitchers, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, as 1A and 1B rather than Nos. 1 and 2 in his rotation.
The pair both pitched like aces that year, combining for 47 percent of the team's 92 wins and then sharing the 2001 World Series MVP Award.
Johnson and Schilling will be reunited this weekend as the D-backs hold a 10-year reunion for the team that beat the Yankees in a scintillating seven-game World Series.
"You had two guys that at that particular time were arguably the two best pitchers in all of baseball," Brenly said. "And they fed off of each other and competed with each other and learned from each other and fought with each other, but it turned out to be an absolutely ideal situation for a first-year manager."
Johnson was 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA and 372 strikeouts that year, while Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 293 punchouts.
When either pitcher took the mound that year, there was a chance you would see history. Johnson, for instance, tied a Major League record with 20 strikeouts in a May 8 start against the Reds. Double-digit strikeout games were the norm for "Big Unit."
"It was awesome," outfielder Luis Gonzalez said. "They went out there and dominated the game. They quietly competed against each other. And you loved it when one of them had a fantastic game, because you knew the other guy was going to be amped up and ready to go and outshine the other guy. It was a great mix of those two guys. It was the yin and the yang, but they did it."
Johnson was loathe to try and put his accomplishments in perspective during his playing career. He never wanted to take a moment to reflect when there was more work to be done. It was that drive and determination that helped him reach 303 career wins and compile 4,875 strikeouts, second only to Nolan Ryan.
"As time has gone on, 10 years now, you look back and I can reflect now that I'm removed from the game, and I can kind of compare and contrast what I was doing then to what people are doing now," said Johnson, who retired following the 2009 season. "Now you have a better idea of what you were doing. Saying that, you can also look at what me and Curt did back then 10 years ago and now you can kind of compare and contrast. Really, has that been done since? The closest team that I would say that is doing that, and maybe a close second, is Philadelphia [now] with the depth they've got in the rotation.
"But as far as the dominance, I mean, you run me and Curt out there back-to-back on any given day, you might see me strike 15 and Curt strike out 15 the next night. I just think that, because we were doing that all year long, I think people thought that we would carry that into the playoffs. And to a certain extent, we did."
Boy, did they ever. The pair combined for nine of the D-backs' 11 postseason wins.
Brenly elected to start Schilling in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis, and he tossed a three-hit shutout for a 1-0 win. Johnson lost the next night, but Schilling won Game 5 with another complete game, this one a 2-1 victory that sent the D-backs to the NL Championship Series against Atlanta.
"Careerwise, I never pitched well against St. Louis and Curt did, so he kind of picked up the slack," Johnson said.
Johnson did his part in the NLCS, starting Game 1 and outdueling Greg Maddux with a three-hit shutout. The Big Unit also won the Game 5 clincher over Tom Glavine. Schilling chipped in a complete-game 5-1 win in Game 3.
That sent the D-backs into the World Series, and Brenly said the decision to start Schilling in Game 1 was made because they felt Schilling was better able to come back on three days' rest if need be.
As it turned out, it was needed.
Schilling pitched the D-backs to a 9-1 Game 1 win, and Johnson followed with a three-hitter the next night.
Schilling came back on short rest for Game 4 and outpitched Orlando Hernandez, only to watch the Yankees score off Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth and win it in the 10th.
It was the second of what would turn out to be three excruciating losses in the Bronx that would send the series back to Arizona with the D-backs desperately needing a win in Game 6.
"You could sift through those three games," Johnson said of the three losses in New York, "and really we could have swept the Yankees as easy as we didn't, but when we came back, we were down 3-2 and facing Andy Pettitte, who at that time I think was the winningest postseason pitcher. It was a must-win."
Johnson delivered, allowing two runs over seven innings, and Brenly removed him following the seventh, with the hope that if he did Johnson would be able to pitch in relief in Game 7 if needed.
"I think I got to the top step [of the dugout] and Brenly asked at that time if taking me out of the game now would I be available for the following day. And I said, 'Sure,' without hesitation," Johnson said.
When Johnson walked to the bullpen late in Game 7, the crowd went bonkers.
"Everyone kind of realized what was happening. I mean, here was a guy that pitched his guts out the night before to win Game 6, and there he was going back down to the bullpen for Game 7," Brenly said. "I think the reaction of the fans really energized the team. Having Randy walk out there and give that huge emotional lift to the entire ballpark, I think that was probably equally as important as what he did when he got out to the mound."
Johnson shut the Yankees down for 1 1/3 innings, and the D-backs rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win.
"Coming out of the bullpen in Game 7, I didn't have any hesitation, but obviously when you do something like that, there's a great deal of burden put on you, because it can go two ways," Johnson said. "It can go the way it did, where I pitched really well in relief, or it could go like it did the very first time I ever offered doing that [in 1995] in Seattle -- ironically enough, against the Yankees again. I came out of the bullpen and I gave up a go-ahead run, and we were losing in the Division Series. We ended up winning and I got the win, but it kind of backfired, too. You can be the hero or you can be the goat."
As with most times with Johnson and Schilling that year, it was the former rather than the latter.