Big Unit's moment

Originally Published: September 11, 2005
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

 Randy Johnson
Johnson
1:05 p.m. ET: In the absurd high-pressure world of the New York Yankees, Randy Johnson's season will largely be defined by how he pitches against the Boston Red Sox today. If he struggles and the Yankees don't make the playoffs, this is the game everybody will remember -- despite the fact that he's 3-0 against Boston this year, with a 4.62 ERA. Tim Wakefield, who has won 7 of 8 decisions since July 22, pitches for the Red Sox, in The Must-Watch Game of the Day.

1:05: In the final game of the Braves' series against the Nationals, they'll be throwing out John Smoltz, a guy who is now 23 victories from 200 and a Hall of Fame candidate. And the Nationals will counter with Jay Bergmann, a reliever with 9 2/3 innings in the major leagues. This could be the best example of The Reverse Lock this season: All logic points to an Atlanta victory, so Washington will win. Or maybe not.

1:15: Two weeks ago, the Pirates' Paul Maholm was preparing for his major-league debut, while wondering if family members and his home near the Mississippi coast would get through Hurricane Katrina. It hasn't been hard for him to keep things in perspective, and he's started his career well, going 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in his first two outings. He pitches against Cincinnati and Brandon Claussen today.

1:35: Ismael Valdez starts the final game of the Marlins' series in Philadelphia today, with a chance to apply a serious body blow to the Phillies' playoff hopes. Jon Lieber takes the mound for Philadelphia in The Must-Win Game of the Day. Carlos Delgado of the Marlins is The Most Likely Guy To Go Deep, because he's hitting .500 against Lieber in his career, with 7 hits in 14 at-bats, including a couple of home runs.

2:05: Roy Oswalt seems to be bouncing back from his slump, but he's got a rugged challenge today in Milwaukee, against the Brewers and Rick Helling. Houston leads the wild-card race, but only by a half-game.

2:05: Oakland is faring well so far on a road trip that could have buried the Athletics, winning the first two games in Texas. Joe Kennedy starts the series finale against Kenny Rogers, who has gone through his typical second-half fade: He has a 2-3 record with a 4.92 ERA, after going 10-4, 2.54 in the first half.

 John Lackey
Lackey
3:05: The Angels look for a sweep in Chicago, with John Lackey pitching against Orlando Hernandez of the White Sox. Lackey is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA after the All-Star break.

8:09: The Must-Watch Game II will be in Cleveland. By game time, the Indians will know if they have a chance to take a 2½ game edge over the Yankees and Athletics in the wild-card race. The Twins, reduced to the role of spoiler, have Carlos Silva pitching, against Cliff Lee, who is 6-0 with a 3.43 ERA since the All-Star break.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is available in paperback and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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