Monday, November 5
Updated: November 6, 2:44 PM ET
Throwback effort shows Unit's a true champion
By Jim Caple
PHOENIX -- Ah, the sights and sounds following Game 7 of the World Series.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner reminding general manager Brian Cashman to order an extra supply of pink slips for the winter. Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo gazing wistfully at the commissioner's trophy and no doubt wondering how much he could pawn it for. Bud Selig mulling over whether it's too soon to consider contracting the Diamondbacks.
And there in the Arizona clubhouse, inside the fermenting home of the four-year-old expansion team and new world champions, was the most unforgettable sight of all. Having just completed a remarkable two-run, ninth inning, game-winning rally against the Yankees and closer Mariano Rivera, the Diamondbacks were straining to perform yet another near-impossible task: Pouring champagne over Randy Johnson's head.
The seventh game of the World Series has seen many epic pitching performances. Among them, Jack Morris pitching 10 scoreless innings to beat Atlanta 1-0 in 1991, Mickey Lolich beating Bob Gibson in 1968, Lew Burdette shutting out the Yankees on two days rest in 1957 and on and on. And now we have another: the Big Unit pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to beat the Yankees in Game 7 the night after pitching seven innings to win Game 6.
In these days of six-inning quality starts, when pitchers talk of "I did my job, I gave my team a chance to win" when they leave trailing 4-3 in the sixth, we're lucky if we can get them to sign an autograph the day after pitching. But Johnson took us back to an earlier time, when men were men and pitchers could complete both games of a doubleheader, slap some skunk oil on their arms, milk the cows, bale the hay, donate blood to the war effort and pitch a shutout the next day.
"You think about the wear and tear on his arm and to still come back the next day? That's just gutsy," Arizona starter Brian Anderson said. "Randy said it last night, that nothing was out of the question. When he came to the park today, (manager Bob Brenly) asked him, 'What do you think?' And he said, 'I want to go down there. I want to pitch.' It wasn't, 'I'll do it if you need me.' It was 'I want to.'
"That's what championship players are about."
Johnson is the first starter to win a World Series Game 6 and pitch in relief the next day since Vic Raschi did it for the Yankees in 1952. He's the third starter to win Games 6 and Game 7, joining St. Louis pitcher Harry Brecheen, who did so in 1946, and Pittsburgh's Ray Kremer, who did it in 1925.
"When people got wind that maybe I would be in the bullpen today, they said, 'Are you kidding? I mean, you pitched yesterday.'" Johnson said. "But this is the World Series. . . . Now I know what it takes to win the World Series. And to get to the postseason, you've got to push the limits."
Besides, the only thing Johnson needs to do with that left arm this winter is wave it in the victory parade. That, and pick up his third consecutive Cy Young Award (and fourth overall) next week.
Despite the Cy Young Awards though, before this fall, some questioned whether Johnson had what it takes to win in the postseason. They somehow ignored the fact that his teams almost never gave him adequate run support. They also somehow forgot his inspiring performance in 1995, when he pitched a complete game to win Seattle's one-game playoff for the AL West title, then won Game 3 of the Division Series and pitched in relief two days later to win the series clincher.
Not even the morons can doubt him now. Johnson was 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA this World Series. He was 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA for the postseason.
More importantly, he and co-World Series MVP Curt Schilling were 9-1 with a 1.30 ERA for the postseason and 52-13 with a 2.52 ERA and 668 strikeouts during this entire season, the longest in baseball history.
No one has been that good together since Lennon and McCartney.
They are the main reasons the Diamondbacks reached the World Series (and why Colangelo must hold aluminum drives to cover the payroll each month), and it was fitting that they were both on the mound in Game 7. Schilling started on three days' rest for the second time in a week before leaving in the eighth inning with the Yankees leading 2-1. Johnson began that inning by leaving the dugout and trotting to the bullpen, hearing the roar of the crowd as he took off his jacket and began warming up on the mound.
"I wasn't even thinking about my arm," he said when asked whether it was sore at all, adding, "It's all just adrenaline out there."
Now, watching Brenly manage is like watching Homer Simpson fiddle with a Rubik's cube. And the way he used Johnson in Game 7 made little sense. He stayed too long with Schilling, then brought in fairly well rested Miguel Batista to face only one batter, then brought in Johnson with the Snakes trailing and knowing the lefty would have to face more than one batter.
And yet it worked. Standing even taller than normal on the mound, Johnson retired the four batters he faced and then the Diamondbacks rallied against the best closer in postseason history in the bottom of the ninth. Naturally, the man Brenly pinch-hit for Johnson, Jay Bell, wound up scoring the winning run.
When Johnson first reached the majors 12 years ago, he was known mostly for being the tallest pitcher in baseball history. Now he is known as being one of the best in history, with seasons comparable to the great Sandy Koufax's. In fact, given that he is pitching in an era of small stadiums, juiced balls and 73-home run seasons, Johnson probably has been better than Koufax.
He has 200 career victories, 3,412 career strikeouts, one very memorable moment with a pigeon in spring training and, most precious of all, he now has a world championship. Johnson attempted to describe his joy and satisfaction, but for the first time this series, he met largely with failure. In the end, he sat in the interview room and talked about how he wished his late father could have seen his past eight outstanding seasons, particularly his most recent victory.
"I think this would far outweigh any personal accomplishment," Johnson said. "Though he was proud of those, this is something he would be bragging to all his friends about -- that my son won and was the World Series champ."
When Johnson returned to the clubhouse, an Arizona employee stood on tiptoes and stretched his arm upward to pour champagne over his head while a shapely young blonde fan sneaked up and leaned her head on the pitcher's left arm. "He doesn't even know we're here," she said to her friend.
Well, what's one more person to baseball's most famous left arm? It can handle it. After all, it had already carried the entire Diamondbacks team, a sellout crowd of nearly 50,000 and the entire Phoenix community to its first world championship.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.