PHOENIX -- Randy Johnson overpowered the Yankees on Sunday, tossing a complete-game, three-hit shutout. His performance brings up the question: Is this the best game pitched against the Yankees in their current championship run?
|Johnson reacts after a double play ended the eighth inning.
"It's one of the best," said Andy Pettitte, who had the misfortune of being the other starting pitcher on Sunday. "John Smoltz threw a great game against me in 1996. I've been in some pretty good pitcher's duels in the postseason. This was one of them."
Johnson faced just three batters over the minimum, holding the Yankees to three singles and one walk over nine innings. The Big Unit struck out 11 batters, giving the Arizona Diamondbacks a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"It was definitely a pitcher's strike zone tonight, and a guy with his stuff and his ability, he definitely had an edge out there," said Scott Brosius, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "We were just up there trying to battle and do what we could to hit the guy. He didn't make a lot of mistakes tonight, especially with his fastball. He kept it inside and outside, and never left anything over the plate for us to hit."
Johnson retired the first 10 Yankees in order, and did not allow a hit over the first four innings. The Yankees were retired in order in six of the nine frames, and their only real scoring threat came in the eighth inning, after Matt Williams' three-run home run gave Arizona a 4-0 lead.
Shane Spencer and Alfonso Soriano led off the eighth with singles, but Johnson struck out Brosius and got pinch-hitter Luis Sojo to hit into a 5-4-3 double play, ending the inning.
"I felt like I got ahead of hitters and I got some double-plays when I needed them," Johnson said. "To be honest, I don't know what their approach was against me. I'm sure they had one. It may even have been to work the pitch count, don't get deep in it, but see if he is throwing strikes and if he is, obviously go up there and swing."
"Guys have pitched good games, but I've never seen this against us in the postseason," said Sojo. "Oakland threw very good games against us in the first round, but we were able to beat them. This guy was amazing tonight. You have to tip your cap to him."
The 6-foot-10 Johnson struck out seven batters in the first three innings, but just four over the final six. Jeter said that Johnson was keeping the Yankees off-balance by moving his pitches all around the zone, not to mention with his intimidating presence.
"He looks like he's 6-foot13, he's halfway to home plate when he's throwing the ball," Jeter said. "He moves it in and out and then he has that slider that keeps you honest. You can't jump at his fastball, otherwise you'll be in trouble with his slider."
Randy Velarde, who was 19-for-42 (.452) against Johnson coming into Game 2, went 0-for-3 with a walk. The win lifted Johnson's career postseason record to 5-7 -- a stat that baffled Velarde.
"I can't understand how this guy had a losing record in the postseason," said Velarde, who faced Johnson in both the first and ninth innings. "It seemed like he was pacing himself. The workhorse that he is, he went out with a lot of heart and desire in that ninth inning. He wanted to close the deal."
Johnson certainly closed the deal on Game 2, but he admits that this series is far from over.
"We knew that this was going to be a tough series," Johnson said. "By no means, we've got to go to New York now and play three ballgames and it's going to be tough there. It was nice, obviously to take two ballgames, but this is far from over."
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for Yankees.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.