By the time Randy Johnson calls it a career, the Big Unit might well be the best southpaw of all time.
As Don Larsen could attest, perfect games alone aren't enough to put a man in the Hall of Fame. But when a man like Randy Johnson throws a perfect game, it's more than just his 15 minutes of fame. It's the crescendo on a career that had already stamped him as one of the most overpowering left-handers of his -- or any -- time.
Before Johnson blew away 27 Braves hitters in a row Tuesday night, no pitcher in his 40s had ever thrown a perfect game. And only one other pitcher in history -- Cy Young -- had ever spun a perfecto more than 200 wins deep into his career. But what separates Johnson from virtually every other modern left-hander is that this wasn't just one night of domination. It was the latest and greatest chapter in his never-ending volume of domination.
This makes 80 times now that the Big Unit has faced the best lineups on earth and held them to three or fewer hits in a start of at least five innings: one hit 12 times, two hits 21 times, three hits 45 times and, of course, no hits twice.
And those 13 strikeouts he piled up in that perfect game marked the 64th time in his career he has fanned at least that many. That comes to 21 games with 13 strikeouts, 15 with 14, 14 with 15, seven with 16, three with 17, one with 18, two with 19 and one with 20.
But with every win, every strikeout, every shutout, Johnson leaps out of the debate about the greatest active pitchers -- and into the argument of the greatest left-handers in history.
The only left-handed pitcher with more career strikeouts is Steve Carlton -- and the Unit could conceivably pass him by the end of the season. The only left-hander who ever struck out more hitters in a season than the 372 Johnson whiffed three years ago was Sandy Koufax.
Just two left-handed 200-game winners have higher career winning percentages -- Whitey Ford and Lefty Grove. And if you're talking sheer unhittability, Johnson almost is on a par with Koufax, holding hitters to a career batting average of just .214 compared to .205 for Koufax.
But if we limit the discussion to just left-handers in the last half-century, Johnson travels in his own solar system. He trails only Warren Spahn in 18-win seasons. And he leads all left-handers in 200-strikeout seasons, 300-strikeout seasons, strikeouts per 9 innings and Cy Young trophies.
And who knows where this man's flight will land? If you thought he was starting to feel his age, guess again. In his 12 starts since turning 40, Johnson now has thrown a one-hitter, a two-hitter and a perfect game. He even hit his first career homer.
So maybe, for some 40-year-old pitchers, a perfect game might be their final, nostalgic moment on center stage. But for Randy Johnson, the spotlight has never stopped shining.
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