10/02/2002 03:20 am ET
Johnson aced out in the first round
Left-hander continues to struggle in opening round
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
PHOENIX --- There apparently is no cure for what ails Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson, no vaccination or self-hypnosis remedy for his recurring case of the Early October Blues.
Game 1 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis on Tuesday night at Bank One Ballpark was, without question, the biggest game of the year for the Big Unit, but his baffling streak of winless divisional play reached a shocking seven games in a blowout 12-2 loss to the Cardinals.
Here he is, considered the best pitcher in the Milky Way galaxy, coming off a brilliant 11-1 stretch drive to help Arizona capture its second straight National League West title, yet now the mystery deepens.
It's not a nightmare, for if Johnson pinched himself after the game, it would hurt.
in Division Series
This is all too real, all too painful for the D-Backs as they prepare for Game 2 on Thursday afternoon, trailing 0-1 in the best-of-five series.
Funny thing, Curt Schilling will start for Arizona in the 1 p.m. MST contest, and despite finishing the regular season with three poor outings, he is 2-0 lifetime in the NLDS -- both victories versus St. Louis last fall.
Oddly, almost inexplicably, the 39-year-old Johnson was not even aware of his division series winless streak, and when told he was 0-7 over his last seven games, it caught him off-guard."
"I don't know what my numbers are," he said. When reminded, he replied, "I guess numbers don't lie. I guess I've had some pretty bad luck. There's no rhyme or reason -- I couldn't tell you."
Manager Bob Brenly said it probably has to do with the opposition, with Johnson losing a 4-1 verdict to the Cardinals last season in the NLDS. The NL Central champions were hailed by the Big Unit as a powerful hitting team.
And maybe that's the simplest explanation for the lefthander's early October troubles. The competition.
"I didn't execute a lot of pitches," said Johnson, who gave up 10 hits -- the most this season -- over six innings, and lost for the first time in the playoffs after five consecutive victories. "My slider was flat, my fastball found the middle of the plate and with that going up against the best offensive lineup in the National League ... the two don't mix.
"When you don't hit your spots and you go up against a team like that, something's got to give, it doesn't matter who you are," said Johnson.
Still, it was an uncharacteristic performance by the 6-foot-10 pitcher, who is expected to win his fifth Cy Young Award after an outstanding 24-5 record with a 2.32 ERA.
Johnson had trouble from the outset, as he gave up a first-inning, two-run 424-foot homer to Jim Edmonds, then allowed an equally mammoth two-run blow to Scott Rolen in the Cardinals' three-run, four-hit fourth.
The 39-year-old veteran (0-1) also issued an RBI single to Mike Matheny in the fourth and a run-scoring single to Fernando Vina in the sixth.
The Diamondback bullpen then took a beating in the six-run seventh, with the Cardinals putting the game out of reach off relievers Matt Mantei and Greg Swindell. The key hit was a two-run single by Edmonds, who had four RBIs in the game.
What went wrong? Why did he struggle?
"I just wasn't as sharp today," said Johnson. "I came in the game with a game plan ... but if you can't execute the pitches then it's going to be the difference of the ballgame, whether you're successful or whether you're not."
Johnson said he felt bad putting the team in a hole right from the get-go, but it was also obvious Tuesday night that the Cardinals had a solid approach, and pitcher Matt Morris was on his game.
Morris (1-0) gave up single runs in the first and third innings, but shut out the defending world champions over the next four innings. He was backed by 14 St. Louis hits.
Tony Womack scored on Steve Finley's sacrifice fly in the first inning. Junior Spivey attempted to score on Matt Williams' single but was nailed at the plate on Albert Pujols' perfect throw
Arizona scored once in the third as Finley and Mark Grace walked, with Quinton McCracken's single scoring Finley. But the D-Backs would not score again.
"You just tip your hat to the offense, but it goes without saying that I didn't pitch as well as I should have, could have," said Johnson. "I didn't make the quality pitches that you see over the course of the regular season. You need to make them in a five-game series because the game is so much more magnified. I've realized that over my postseason career. It doesn't matter what you do over the regular season. When you get to the postseason, it's all about the one game you're going to perform in."
It was difficult for Brenly to put his finger on Johnson's problems as well, but he theorized the Cardinals had a solid game plan against Johnson's 99-mph offerings.
"It's a good ballclub over there," said Brenly. "They stayed up the middle of the field for the most part. When they got runners on base, they were able to move them around."
Johnson is 7-8 with a 3.08 ERA in 108 innings of playoff baseball over 16 career appearances. The 10 hits he allowed was the most he's given up in the postseason since Game 2 of the 1998 NLDS versus San Diego while pitching for Houston.
All the Big Unit can do now is wait for Game 4 of the Division Series, scheduled this Sunday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
That's assuming there is a Game 4 for the Diamondbacks.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.