By David Schoenfield
Page 2

Twenty-seven up, 27 down -- the sweetest possible words for a pitcher.

It takes equal amounts skill and luck to throw a perfect game. But most of all it takes dominance -- which Randy Johnson delivered with nine wonderful innings Tuesday night.

So here is one man's opinion of the most dominating pitching performances over the last 25 years (what we like to call the "ESPN era"):

Kerry Wood
Wood came on the scene as the next big thing with his 20K game in 1998.

1. Kerry Wood fans 20 Astros
In just his fifth major-league start, Wood baffled the Astros with dazzling heat and a dizzying curveball that left Astros hitters lunging at air. True, the weather that May day in 1998 at Wrigley was dark and drizzly, but Wood tied Roger Clemens' record of 20 strikeouts and allowed only an infield single to a good-hitting team while giving up no walks.

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    2. Nolan Ryan's 7th no-hitter
    Bill James invented a gimmick stat called Game Score, which records a pitcher's dominance by giving points for strikeouts and innings pitched, and subtracting points for hits and runs allowed. Anyway, Wood's performance ranks as the best ever for a nine-inning game at 105. Sandy Koufax had 101 in his perfect game. Randy Johnson had 100 last night. Nolan Ryan also scored 101 in his seventh no-hitter, against the Blue Jays in 1991: he struck out 16 and walked two.

    And he was 44 years old.

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    3. Roger Clemens shuts down M's in ALCS
    The Rocket shut down opinions that he always came up short in big games. With the Yankees leading the 2000 ALCS 2-1 over the Mariners, Clemens was untouchable: he allowed only a seventh-inning double to Al Martin and struck out 15.

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    Nolan Ryan
    Ryan capped a legendary career with his seventh no-hitter in 1991 at age 44.

    4. Randy Johnson's perfect game
    The Big Unit fanned 20 Reds in 2001, but gave up a run. In 1997, he twice struck out 19 in game. He once struck out 18 in just eight innings. But this performance was his ultimate: he struck out 13, the second-most ever in a perfect game (Koufax had 14), and nobody hit the ball hard off him all night.

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    5. Pedro sits down the Yanks
    Martinez once pitched nine perfect innings for the Expos (fanning nine before allowing a hit in the 10th inning), but his most dominating performance came in September of 1999 with the Red Sox fighting for a playoff spot. Martinez struck out 313 that year, including 15 or more six times. Against the Yankees, Martinez did allow a Chili Davis home run in the second inning. but he retired the other 27 batters, 17 by strikeout.

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    6. Jack Morris: 10 shutout innings in Game 7, 1991 World Series
    OK, you can argue it was more clutch than dominating -- Morris gave up seven hits and struck out eight -- but 10 scoreless innings with only the entire season on the line. That's enough extra credit to make this list.

    Roger Clemens
    The Rocket rid himself of his postseason demons with his 2000 playoff performance.

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    7. Rocket fans 20 -- again
    Clemens became the first man to strike out 20 in a nine-inning game in 1986 against the Mariners (he gave up one run) -- and then became the second man to do it, against the Tigers in 1996. Clemens spaced out five singles and walked none in the shutout.

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    8. Kevin Brown blows away Astros
    The first game of the 1998 Division Series was a battle of titans: San Diego's Kevin Brown (2.38 ERA) vs. Houston's Randy Johnson (10-1, 1.28 with Astros). The Big Unit gave up only two runs, but Brown delivered one of the most dominating playoff performances of all time: 8 IP, 16 K's, 2 hits, 0 runs. (Trevor Hoffman replaced him in the ninth inning.)

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    9. David Wells' perfect game
    Besides Johnson, there have been seven other perfect games during the ESPN era -- Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, Wells and David Cone. Wells' perfecto against the Twins in 1998 was the most dominating of the rest: 11 K's with nothing too tough in the field. (Len Barker also fanned 11, but it came against a weak Blue Jays team).

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    10. Orel Hershiser reels off 10 more scoreless innings
    When Hershiser pitched a record 59.1 consecutive shutout innings for the Dodgers in 1988, breaking Don Drysdale's mark of 58.2, he didn't do it by striking out everybody in sight. He did it by inducing weak groundball after weak groundball with his nasty sinker. He set the record with his 6th straight shutout, a 10-inning, four-hit performance against the Padres in his last start of the regular season.

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