Randy Johnson retires, Cooperstown awaits

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Randy Johnson Dbacks.jpgAfter a stellar 22-year career Randy Johnson, The Big Unit, announced his retirement this evening.  He finishes with a record of 303-166. He racked up 4,785 strikeouts.  He won five Cy Young Awards, four of which came back-to-back-to-back-to-back, in the first four years of what has to be just about the best free agent signing ever.  While Roger Clemens may have a few family members who would plead his case, most would agree that Johnson was the most dominating and intimidating pitcher of his era.

But to me, it’s much more than the numbers that will define Randy Johnson’s legend. It’s the transformation.  I first saw Randy Johnson on TV as he pitched against the Braves on May 7, 1989.
I remember his performance distinctly, mostly because he was so damn
tall. Still, there was nothing about him that made me think the
guy would be in baseball in a year, let alone winning his 300th 20
years later. He was gangly and ineffective, going four innings, giving up six runs and walking six guys on the second worst offense in
the National League. When he was traded to the Mariners the following month I
thought “they gave up Mark Langston for that guy?” Mark Langston was an
All-Star who could strike guys out. Why on Earth would Seattle trade him for this wild beanpole?

Johnson slowly began to improve after the trade to Seattle, to the point where he was a genuinely average to slightly above average pitcher by 1992, though one who walked way, way too many guys.  He was 28 by then. I figured that he would peter out soon enough and would be remembered as a slightly better, left handed Bobby Witt.

Then something clicked, and after it clicked no one had a chance off of the guy for the next dozen years.

Johnson was always a difficult interview. Sometimes surly, but mostly just introspective and private. He wasn’t the sort that would go on and on about his craft.  If he was, however, he’d probably have an awful lot to say on the subjects of determination and concentration and above all else hard work.  What’s the knock on tall pitchers? That their mechanics are impossible because of their size? Tell me: was there anyone who had simpler, more fluid mechanics than Randy Johnson in his prime? Mastering those mechanics was the only way he’d ever go from an erratic gas thrower to a perennial Cy Young Award winner, and to do that had to take hours and hours of work.

Many people will be writing about Randy Johnson in the next couple of days, and when they do they will likely use the terms “gifted” and “overpowering” and “physical specimen.”  And they’ll be apt words because he was a gifted, overpowering physical specimen.

But most of us would have forgotten about the guy sometime in the mid-90s if he didn’t work, likely harder than any pitcher has ever worked before or since, to transform himself from that gifted but erratic thrower I saw in 1989 to the inner-circle Hall of Famer he is today, on the day of his retirement.

Congratulations on a spectacular career, Mr. Johnson.  See you in Cooperstown in 2015.

Astros stave off AL West elimination, beat the Diamondbacks

Colby Rasmus, Gary Pettis
AP Photo

Facing an elimination number of one, the Astros staved off elimination in the AL West by beating the Diamondbacks on Friday night by a 6-1 margin. The Rangers suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Angels on Saturday afternoon, which temporarily put the Astros’ fate in their own hands.

Colby Rasmus hit a pair of solo homers and Jose Altuve added a solo shot of his own. Starter Collin McHugh tossed seven innings of one-run ball, limiting the Diamondbacks to six hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Reliever Will Harris allowed a solo home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth, but Luke Gregerson closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.

The Astros trail the Rangers by one game in the AL West and lead the Angels by one game for the second AL Wild Card slot. The Rangers can clinch the AL West on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Astros loss. The Astros can clinch the second AL Wild Card on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Angels loss.

The Yankees lost both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles and lead the Astros by only one game for the first AL Wild Card slot.

If the Astros win and the Rangers lose on Sunday, they will play an AL West tiebreaker in Texas. The winner will win the second AL Wild Card if the Yankees win on Sunday, or the first AL Wild Card if the Yankees lose on Sunday.

If the Astros lose and the Angels win on Sunday, the two teams will be tied for the second AL Wild Card. They would play a tiebreaker in Houston, and the winner would play the Yankees in New York in the Wild Card game.

Video: Kelby Tomlinson slides in for an inside-the-park home run

Kelby Tomlinson
AP Photo
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Giants second baseman Kelby Tomlinson looked more like Ladainian Tomlinson the way he was running during Saturday afternoon’s game against the Rockies. In the first inning with one out against starter Chris Rusin, Tomlinson hit a fly ball into the right-center field gap at AT&T Park, a great place to go if you’re in the mood for an inside-the-park home run.

Neither Carlos Gonzalez nor Chris Dickerson could corral the ball before it rolled all the way to the 421-foot marker at the fence. Tomlinson motored around the bases, but Gonzalez made a strong throw into cut-off man D.J. LeMahieu, and LeMahieu made a great throw in to catcher Tom Murphy, but Tomlinson slid in safely just ahead of the tag.

It was an exciting play and the hit proved important as the Giants eked out a 3-2 win against the Rockies.