04/21/2002 9:06 pm ET
Big Unit quiets Rockies
Left-hander strikes out 17 in Arizona's 7-1 win
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- At times, 6-foot-10 rawboned Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson seems a physical giant playing against a rag-tag bunch of Lilliputians.
He overmatches 'em.
He strikes them out with scary regularity.
And he'll never give an inch. Not one millimeter.
Sunday at Bank One Ballpark, the Big Unit had one of those special times, as he struck out 17 batters, pitched his third career two-hitter and raised his record to a Major League-leading 5-0 with a 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies. He came eerily close to the classic command he showed in fanning 20 Cincinnati Reds here May 8.
Climaxing his superb game, he faced Colorado's Todd Helton -- on a 12-game hitting streak -- with two out in the ninth. What does RJ do? Throw three 100-mph fastballs and a 90-mph slider. Strikeout. End of streak, end of game.
Although Johnson would throw 117 pitches overall, when manager Bob Brenly asked the hurler if reliever Byung-Hyum Kim could get some work and pitch the final inning, Johnson replied, "No, I will finish."
His long-standing credo is to complete every job he starts, but with the Rockies riding RJ hard from the bench with R-rated jibes and eighth-inning K victim Terry Schumpert getting into a staring contest with the big guy, Johnson admittedly was a little more animated and vowed to fight to the finish.
"I heard some chirping from their dugout, and that was a little bit of an incentive," said Johnson, the Major League strikeout leader with 51. "That made me want to go out and finish the game. It's not important, but it motivates me."
As for nearly breaking the sound barrier on those final pitches to Helton, Johnson figures he can almost coast along with 95-, 96-mph fastballs for most of the game, but surprisingly -- for the hitters -- pick it up a notch and reach the 100 mph plateau.
It shocks the hitters, he says. It's almost disbelief he can throw that hard.
Brenly remains totally in awe of the big fella.
"I've run out of superlatives," he said. "He was real pleased with his splitter today, felt he could throw it in the strike zone when he wanted to. Plus he got some easy groundball outs. He was hitting his spots all day. It sure looked like he was comfortable out there."
Johnson yielded his only run in the first inning, when leadoff batter Juan Pierre lined a single to right and eventually scored on two passed balls and a stolen base. But he would retire 27 out of the next 30 batters.
Meantime, the Arizona offense supported Johnson with nine hits, including solo homers by Steve Finley and Damian Miller and two doubles and two runs scored by leadoff man Tony Womack. All came off Colorado starter Shawn Chacon, 1-3.
Also contributing RBIs were Luis Gonzalez, Junior Spivey and Mark Grace, the latter's eighth-inning single breaking an 0-for-10 streak against the Rockies. For the homestand, Grace was struggled at 2-for-17, an unpleasant .117.
"Yeah, yeah, there is a God," laughed Grace. "What a great homestand, huh?"
What, Mr. Grace, was the problem?
"I stink. I'd love to give you a reason why, but I just stink." Grace's real problem was trying to get the ball past Colorado infielders during the series. They always seemed to be in the right spot.
As for Johnson's stunning performance, Grace heard the Rockies, too, giving Randy a lot of lip, and he has some words of advice for future RJ opponents: keep quiet.
"I can't say what they were saying -- this is family TV," said Grace. "I've been on teams that were barking at him before. And with him, the more you bark the better he gets. You're better off keeping your thoughts to yourself."
Johnson now has 3,463 strikeouts, only 43 behind Walter Johnson for eighth place on the all-time strikeout list. Johnson has recorded 1,134 Ks in an Arizona uniform over 809 innings for 12.62 strikeouts per nine innings.
Arizona has an off day Monday and will start a six-game road trip Tuesday, opening at Atlanta's Turner Field. Curt Schilling (3-1), will face Jason Marquis (1-2).
The D-Backs won't face the Rockies again until a two-game stay in Denver July 17-18. Arizona has won six of seven games and 16 of the last 20 meetings. Last year, the D-Backs were 20-10 overall vs. Colorado.
Rich Draper covers the Diamondbacks for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.