Johnson fires gem at Braves

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

ATLANTA -- Randy Johnson had pretty much done it all -- Cy Young Awards, a no-hitter, strikeout records, a World Series championship.

Only one thing was missing in his brilliant career, that rarest of pitching feats.

At the ripe ol' age of 40, the Big Unit took care of that, too.

Johnson became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game, retiring all 27 hitters to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Atlanta Braves 2-0 Tuesday night.

"A game like this was pretty special," said Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner. "It doesn't come along very often."

It was the 17th perfect game in major league history, the 15th since the modern era began in 1900 and the first since the New York Yankees' David Cone against Montreal on July 18, 1999.

"Everything he's done up to this point pales in comparison," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said.

Johnson struck out 13 and went to three balls on just one hitter -- Johnny Estrada in the second inning. Estrada fouled off three straight 3-2 pitches before going down swinging.

Late in the game, Johnson sat stoically in the dugout, staring at the ground with his eyes closed, appearing to be almost asleep.

"It didn't faze me," the left-hander said. "Winning the game was the biggest, most important thing."

His manager was a lot more nervous. From the sixth inning on, Brenly remained frozen in the same spot -- sitting on the bat rack, tapping Matt Kata's bat with his knuckles while following one of baseball's oldest superstitions.

"This is one of those nights where a superior athlete was on top of his game," Brenly said. "There was a tremendous rhythm out there. His focus, his concentration, his stuff, everything was as good as it could possibly be."

Cy Young, then 37, had been the oldest to throw a perfect game, doing it in 1904.

Johnson sure didn't act his age, getting stronger as the game went along on a pleasantly warm night in Atlanta.

"Not bad for being 40 years old," he said. "Everything was locked in."

While it was the first perfect game of Johnson's career, it was his second no-hitter. He no-hit Detroit for Seattle on June 2, 1990, walking six.

"That was far from perfect," he recalled. "I was a very young pitcher who didn't have any idea where the ball was going. I was far from being a polished pitcher. Fourteen years later, I've come a long way as far as knowing what I want to do."

It was the longest span between a pair of no-hitters by a pitcher in baseball history.

Appropriately, Johnson struck out the final batter, pinch-hitter Eddie Perez, with a 98 mph fastball.

Within seconds, Johnson was mobbed by the rest of his teammates.

"He could smell it at the end," Estrada said.

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