09/10/2002 01:49 am ET
No ordinary win for D-Backs
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- For the Diamondbacks, there may never be another "routine victory" this season.
Certainly not during this crucial stretch drive.
They may be the defending World Series champions and lead the National League West by 4 1/2 games, but when Randy Johnson pitched what looked on the surface to be merely a matter-of-fact, been-there, done-that 5-2 victory over San Diego on Monday, it was decidedly more than that.
It was more than his 21st win of the season. More than another historic strikeout contest. The timing was huge.
After three straight defeats, and losses in nine of their last 12 contests, the Diamondbacks desperately needed a confidence boost, and with the Big Unit on the mound and the offense in high gear, suddenly their upside-down world was right side up.
Arizona fans have seen this kind of game before, when shortstop Tony Womack continues to rip opposing pitchers in the second half -- he's on an 11-game hitting streak -- when Erubiel Durazo blasts another homer (No. 16) and Johnson battles fiercely despite his legendary heat being only lukewarm.
Manager Bob Brenly smiled for the first time in days.
"We don't care if they're routine or hard-fought or whatever other modifiers you want to put on it -- a win is a win is a win," said Brenly, who loved the relative normalcy of the victory, a kind of comfort zone for the D-Backs after some mental and physical errors over the past week.
"It went that way for a lot of different reasons," he said. "Tony and (Steve Finley) did a nice job of getting on base at the top of the order, Ruby's home run snapped a little bit of a drought there and I thought we played real good defense today, and of course RJ held them in check and did what we needed to do today."
What's continually amazing is that Johnson, already the stuff of baseball legend and lore, celebrates his 40th birthday Tuesday, a time when most players are turning to coaching or retiring to a softer, easier life.
The Big Unit, however, seems to be just warming up after 15 years in the Majors.
"Randy Johnson is a very talented, competitive athlete and I don't think another year on his driver's license is going to change anything that he does," said Brenly. "Physically, he's very comfortable where he's at right now, mentally able to maintain his focus. It wouldn't surprise me to see Randy doing this five years from now."
The D-Backs aided his cause by jumping to a 5-0 lead after four innings, and although Johnson didn't match his usual double-digit strikeout magic, when he fanned Gene Kingsale in the seventh, it was Unit's 300th victim of the season, a Major League record for at least 300 strikeouts for the fifth straight year.
Johnson admitted that was a special figure, because he alone has accomplished that feat. But he enjoyed the victory even more.
"I don't want to say we've been struggling, but we haven't been on all cylinders," said the pitcher. "To come back home was a good situations for us, and we know how important it was to get off on a good start. It was a good win for us."
Johnson realizes he will be -- whether he says it or not -- a baseball immortal, a bronze Hall of Fame bust of himself, a special Cooperstown corner all his own. Someday.
All the pitchers he has passed this season on the all-time strikeout list he genuinely admires, because he knows how hard they worked. Gaylord Perry. Walter Johnson. Don Sutton. Tom Seaver. Bert Blyleven.
Nolan Ryan tops the K list at 5,714. Whew. Johnson is in fourth with 3,712, and both share the mark for most 300-plus strikeout seasons with six.
"Nolan's work ethic is what allowed him to do what he did so well, to go out there and be the pitcher he was," said Johnson. "That's one thing we have in common. No one worked as hard as he did, but I realized that by working hard it allows you to go out there and maximize your efforts on the mound."
Ironically, Johnson says what he does in the four days between starts -- the workouts, and preparation -- is harder than when he pitches.
"More so this year," he said. "I'm second only to Mike Morgan (42) in age here. I have to do the little things."
Rich Draper covers the Diamondbacks for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.